Tidal wetlands line much of the salt water shore, bays, inlets, canals, and estuaries of our nation’s coastline. They are valued for marine food production, wildlife habitat, as well as flood, hurricane and storm control; recreation; cleansing of ecosystems; absorption of silt and organic material; education and research opportunities; and aesthetic values. Areas adjacent to tidal wetlands often carry many of the same or similar valuable attributes and, in addition, provide a valuable buffer for the wetlands.
In many coastal areas, human activities have adversely affected, and in some cases destroyed, the delicate ecological balance of these important tidal wetlands areas. The policy of most states, through their environmental conservation laws and regulations, is to preserve and protect these wetlands. Like freshwater wetlands, most states have a “no-net-loss” policy for tidal wetlands.
While state natural resources agencies have regulations to prevent the damage and destruction of tidal wetlands, many development projects have significantly reduced the acreage of tidal wetlands and subsequently, reduced their functionality.
In many states, tidal wetlands disturbance and fragmentation, has enabled one species, Phragmites, spp. to outcompete the natural wetland species assemblage. Species such as Spartina alterniflora (salt marsh cordgrass) and Spartina patens (Salt meadow cordgrass) are often absent due to wetland disturbances. A healthy salt marsh depends upon the presence of these grasses, which provide a habitat for crustaceans, mollusks, and birds, and serve as a major source of organic nutrients for the entire estuary. Mats of salt hay grass are inhabited by many small animals and are an important food source for ducks and Seaside Sparrows.
Restoring natural assemblages of wetlands plants can be a costly undertaking for natural resources agencies and not-for-profit conservation groups. Mitigation banking can provide the funding necessary to restore native vegetation using private investments without public funds. In addition, mitigation banks are often large tracts of land, rather than small, fragmented parcels making successful wetland creation, restoration and enhancement possible and functionally sustainable. State agencies and the federal government should facilitate the creation of more tidal wetland banks for the benefit of our natural resources and reverse the declining wetland trend in this country.
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