Freshwater habitats come in many forms ranging from glaciers to lakes, rivers, and wetlands. These freshwater ecosystems represent less than one percent of the planet’s surface while supporting over 100,000 species including but not limited to fish, frogs, worms, crawfish, and birds and mammals nesting and feeding in wetland vegetation. While serving as habitat for a large number of animals, freshwater wetlands are also home to a variety of plant types. Cattails are a common sight around freshwater lakes and marshes and help in maintaining a healthy ecosystem by filtering runoff as it flows into lakes and serving as a protectant against shoreline erosion. Floating plants, such as duckweed, are a favorite food for many ducks and geese that populate the area.
Cattails & Reeds in a Pond
Freshwater wetlands may stay wet year-round or evaporate during the dry season. Freshwater habitats are some of the most endangered habitats in the world. Human development, agriculture, and pollution are leading factors that put the availability of freshwater at risk. Saltwater intrusion is another underlying factor interrupting the natural conditions of water quality. These impacts have extreme consequences for our freshwater biodiversity, economy, and our well-being. Louisiana’s freshwater wetlands along the coast and other areas are disappearing at a high rate. The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act implements projects in an effort to preserve freshwater ecosystems.
If you enjoy recreational fishing, eating fish, or just the beauty of fish, keep reading to find out more about how wetlands impact the survival of fish populations.
When wetlands are degraded or destroyed, it becomes a challenge for fish populations to survive and grow. Wetlands support fish survival through functions like food production, spawning and nursery habitat, protection from predators, and the reduction of water pollutants, to name a few. Wetland vegetation and dead plant material are constantly utilized by fish as a food source, refuge, natural filtration device, and a barrier to changing weather conditions.
The loss of wetlands leads to reduced fish populations which affect the natural ecosystem, as well as commercial and recreational fishing. Food webs have a delicate balance, and with wetlands dissipating, you can expect a shift in fish and wildlife populations and human consumption. While fish rely on wetlands for food, humans depend on wetlands for food, too. Crawfish, shrimp, oysters, alligator, and fish are some of the tastiest wetland delicacies that humans enjoy eating.
Are you curious as to which fish you can find in wetlands? Well, that depends entirely on the wetland type, geographic location, and its salinity. Common fish found in the Gulf Coast region are: shrimp because of the amount of wetland acres and amount of edge between wetlands and open waters; blue crab, which depend on the seagrass beds for food and refuge; and striped bass, which are a popular recreation fish. You can also find many other fish and crustaceans in Louisiana’s wetlands.
Wetlands have long been considered an obstruction to development. Nearly a century ago, it was believed that wetlands did not provide substantial benefits to the environment and were deemed worthless. Wetlands were drained or filled to make room for further development, such as roads and homes. Today, scientists recognize the environmental benefits that wetlands provide and are encouraging us to preserve this environmental resource. Although we are still losing wetlands, our improved understanding of this dynamic ecosystem and the benefits it provides seems to be contributing to a decreasing loss of wetlands.
Wetlands are valuable in the fact that they provide water purification, flood protection, erosion control, groundwater recharge and discharge, and streamflow maintenance. Along with these benefits, wetlands provide habitat for a large percentage of threatened and endangered species, as well as fish and other wildlife. How a particular wetland functions and benefits the environment depends on its location and type. Wetlands take many forms including marshes, estuaries, bogs, lakes, coral reefs, and floodplains, just to name a few. Wetlands also provide recreational benefits, such as fishing, birding, nature photography, hiking, and kayaking. If you are feeling anxious to seek outdoor activity, look no further than the wetlands near you.
A partially filled or otherwise damaged wetland only reaches its minimal potential to provide all of these environmental benefits. If we want wetlands to continue to perform their ecological functions to the best of their ability, we have to protect them. Take action to help preserve one of the most biologically diverse but undervalued ecosystems.
Frogs are a distinct part of the wildlife we find within wetlands. When wetlands begin to flood either from rainfall or river flow, the volume of croaking increases and breeding begins to take place. Frogs more than any other terrestrial animal need water for survival, and their breeding is tied to when flooding of the wetland occurs.
Even though water is the primary factor driving frog distributions, food availability, aquatic vegetation, and predator densities are other factors that contribute. Wetland vegetation provides shelter for adult frogs. Spanish moss is popular wetland vegetation used by frogs to hide from predators. While vegetation provides shelter for adult frogs, it also serves as a platform for biofilms and organic matter to grow, which are important food sources for tadpoles. The thin, porous skin of frogs and tadpoles also makes them great bio indicators. They are very sensitive to environmental damage because of the chemicals their skin absorbs from the air and water. If an area is populated by frogs, it means the local environment is likely to be pristine.
National American Eagle Day is observed each year on June 20th. This day is celebrated in honor of our national symbol, to raise awareness for protecting the bald eagle, to assist in the recovery of their habitat, and to educate Americans on their significance. The bald eagle can be sighted during its breeding season at nearly any wetland habitat such as seacoasts, rivers, large lakes, or marshes. You can find these eagles around large bodies of open water with an abundance of fish.
In the mid 20th century, America’s precious eagles were almost lost due to the effects of habitat destruction, poaching, and environmental negligence, specifically the contamination of food sources by the pesticide DDT. Thanks to conservation efforts of various organizations, conservationists, and protection laws – the bald eagle populations recovered. Habitats restored through CWPPRA projects aided in the delisting of our national symbol from the endangered species list in 2007. CWPPRA has protected, created, or restored approximately 97,177 acres of Louisiana’s vanishing coastal wetlands in its first 25 years. Those restored swamps, marshes, barrier islands/headlands, and associated open-water habitats provide foraging, nesting, breeding, wintering, escape cover, and nursery habitat for wildlife, in particular the American bald eagle.
On May 23, we celebrated the 17th annual World Turtle Day sponsored by American Tortoise Rescue. This nonprofit organization was established in 1990 to protect all species of tortoises and turtles. They created World Turtle Day to serve as an annual observance of protecting tortoises and turtles around the world and their disappearing habitats. Wetlands that serve as habitat for turtles include shallow fresh waters, pelagic salt waters, and heavily and scarcely vegetated areas. Various species of turtles reside in every type of wetland environment.
Did You Know?
- The majority of turtles that you see on the road are females traveling to their annual nesting sites.
- Turtles like to eat dead material lying on the bottom of ponds, lakes, and wetlands. Turtles keep the water clean!
- Snapping turtles rarely snap at humans in water. They do not like the way people smell or taste.
- If you are helping a turtle cross the road, be sure to move the turtle in the same direction it was originally headed. DO NOT turn it back around! It is likely it will try to cross the road again.
- If you touch a turtle, it is important that you wash your hands thoroughly. Turtles may carry salmonella.
How to Protect Turtles?
- Avoid walking or driving on sandy areas where turtles are nesting.
- Create a “no wake zone” to reduce damage to shoreline wetland habitats and stop the removal of plant materials.
- Do not remove turtles from their natural habitats.
What Can You Do?
- You can put signs and small barriers around nesting sites and wetlands that are on your property.
- You can contact local programs to help pay for habitat restoration in your area.
- You can add beneficial features to turtle habitat by planting native plants to buffer wetlands and turtle nesting areas. This will attract frogs, snails, insects, and other species that turtles eat.