Wetlands is a general term for portions of land periodically covered by fresh waterWater that is relatively free of salts. or salt water. Over the past 400 years numerous words have been used to describe these areas including swamp,
tidal swamp, coastal swamp, marsh, tidal marsh, salt marshCoastal wetland ecosystem that is inundated for some period of time by seawater. Plants that exist in this community have special adaptation to survive in the presence of high salinities in their immediate environment. Generally, found poleward of 30° North and South latitude,
salt meadow, bog, fen, morass, overflowed land and quagmire (Moss 1980). Terminology has changed as people’s
perceptions of the value of these lands have changed. The term wetlands began to appear in the 1950s, along
with a concern for the preservation of these lands as wildlife habitatThe place or set of environmental conditions in which a particular organism lives.
Wetlands are often classified as swamps or marshes, depending on whether the vegetation is dominated by trees (swamps)
or by grasses (marshes). Cypress ponds, strands, prairies, river swamps, floodplainsland next to a stream or river that is flooded during high-water flow.,
freshwater marshes, wet prairies, salt marshes and mangroveTreed wetlands located on the coastlines in warm tropical climates.
swamps are all wetlands. Wetlands perform many valuable functions. They provide vital habitats for fish and wildlife.
They improve water qualityA term used to describe the chemical, physical, and biological characteristics of water, usually in respect to its suitability for a particular purpose. by trapping nutrientsAny food, chemical element or compound an organism requires to live, grow, or reproduce.
such as nitrogen and phosphorus, toxicPoisonous, a substance that reacts with specific cellular components to kill cells. substances and disease-causing
microorganismsExtremely small organism that can only be seen using a microscope.. They slow and intercept runoffThe topographic flow of water from precipitation to stream channels located at lower elevations. Occurs when the infiltration capacity of an area's soil has been exceeded. It also refers to the water leaving an area of drainage. Also called overland flow.,
protect shorelines and banks from erosionTo wear away by the action of water, wind, or glacial ice. Removal of vegetation and trees can increase erosion of topsoil., and protect upland
areas from floods.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a geospacial National Wetlands Inventory. Click to go to the Wetlands Mapper. The Wetlands Mapper integrates digital
map data with other resource information to produce timely and relevant management and decision support tools.
Reduction of Wetland Areas
Wetlands once covered half of Florida. Over one-half of these wetlands have been drained for agriculture, flood
control and residential development. Extensive areas of remaining wetlands include the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp
in southern Florida, Green Swamp in central Florida, Okefenokee Swamp near the Florida-Georgia border, and Tates Hell
Swamp in northwest Florida
The Value of Wetlands
The April, 2006, Congressional Research Issue Brief for Congress IB97014 by Jeffrey A. Zinna and Claudia Copeland, is
Functional values, both ecological and economic, at each wetland depend on its location, size, and relationship to
adjacent land and water areas. Many of these values have been recognized only recently. Historically, many federal
programs encouraged wetlands to be drained or altered because they were seen as having little value as wetlands. Wetland
values can include:
Usually wetlands provide some composite of these values; no single wetland in most instances provides all these
values. The composite value typically declines when wetlands are altered. In addition, the effects of alteration often
extend well beyond the immediate area because wetlands are usually part of a larger water system. For example,
conversion of wetlands to urban uses has increased flood damages; this value is receiving considerable attention as
natural disaster costs have mounted through the 1990s.
Federal laws that affect wetlands have changed since the mid 1980s as the value of wetlands has been recognized.
Previously, some laws, such as selected provisions in the federal tax code, public works legislation, and farm programs,
encouraged destruction of wetland areas. Federal laws now either encourage wetland protection, or prohibit or do
not support their destruction. These laws, however, do not add up to a fully consistent or comprehensive
national approach. The central federal regulatory program, §404 of the Clean Water Act, requires permits for the
discharge of dredged or fill materials into many but not all wetland areas; however, other activities that may adversely
affect wetlands do not require permits. An agricultural program, swampbuster, is a disincentive program that indirectly
protects wetlands by making farmers who drain wetlands ineligible for federal farm program benefits; those who do not
receive these benefits have no reason to participate. Several other acquisition and incentive programs complete the
current protection effort.
We can draw important precepts from the above. Wetlands should be considered with respect to their specific value
functions in relationship with adjacent lands, and water syatems. Any mitigation (not mentioned above) may be
sanctioned on a one for one basis, meaning that the effct of the wetland destruction and mitigation combined, should
preserve the value functionThe expression of an attribute conveying a sense of measurable worth of the wetlands to be
Unfortunately Sate law has not kept in step with the intent of the Federal Law as interpreted in IB97014.
Definitions of Wetlands
In 1953, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service defined wetlands as “lowlands covered with shallow and sometimes
temporary or intermittent waters... and holding water long enough to grow moist-soil plants” (quoted in Moss 1980).
The wetlands definition found in Florida law today (Chapter 373.019, FS) is based on vegetation and soil, as
well as on the hydrologic conditions. TopographyA detailed map of the contours of surfaces of land.
is no longer considered part of the definition. Some wetlands actually have higher elevation than surrounding land.
It is necessary to understand exactly how they are regarded locally. As defined in subsection 373.019 (22), F.S.,
wetlands are those areas which are, quote:
inundated or saturated by surface water or ground water at a frequency and a duration sufficient to support, and
under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adaptedTo be accustomed to the natural factors that are in a given area and to be able to survive these factors, being either positive or negative.
for life in saturated soils. Soils present in wetlands generally are classified as hydric or alluvial, or possess
characteristics that are associated with reducing soil conditions. The prevalent vegetation in wetlands generally
consists of facultative or obligate hydrophytic macrophytes that are typically adapted to areas having soil conditions
described above. These species, due to morphological, physiological, or reproductive adaptations, have the ability to
grow, reproduce, or persist in aquatic environments or anaerobic
soil conditions. Florida wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bayheads, bogs, cypress domes and strands, sloughs,
wet prairies, riverine swamps and marshes, hydric seepage slopes, tidal marshes, mangroveTreed wetlands located on the coastlines in warm tropical climates.
swamps and other similar areas. Florida wetlands generally do not include longleaf or slash pine flatwoods with an
understory dominated by saw palmetto.
- Living without molecular oxygen.
- Occurring only in the absence of molecular oxygen.
- Growing in the absence of molecular oxygen.
Even with such a long and specific definition, identifying wetlands and determining their boundaries is not easy.
Wetland determination is based on three factors —hydrology, soil and plants. Identification and delineation are
based on applied science and require field tests.
In Florida, when a proposed change in land use potentially affects a wetland, a permit is required. The permitting
criteria first attempt to ensure that the wetland will be preserved. When some adverse impact to the wetland is
unavoidable, the permit conditions may require restoration or mitigation at another site. Although wetland mitigation
may mean that more wetlands than those impacted will be preserved, protected or restored, either at the impacted site
or at another site, Stae law does not stipulate adherence to the guidelines of the Congressional Issue Brief IB97014
referred to above, that is to say, mtigation on a one for one basis having regard to the functional value of the
wetland to be harmed by any development with regard to adjacent areas.
Throughout Florida, all government agencies now use the same method to identify wetlands. The methods are Florida-specific
rather than national or global. The complete methodology is set forth in the Florida Administrative Code, Chapter 17-340.
Simply stated, wetlands must have at least two out ofhe following three conditions: The hydrology —Wetlands are
affected by the frequency and duration of water upon the land. There are thirteen hydrologic indicators of wetlands,
such as water marks, algal mats and aquatic plants and animals. The soil — Wetland
soils are saturated or ponded long enough to develop anaerobic
or low oxygen, conditions in the upper part of the soil. There are twelve hydric (wet) soil indicators, such as a sulfur
odor, dark color and muck or peat. The plants — Wetlands have more plants that grow, reproduce or persist in
saturated or wet conditions than uplands. These are called obligate or facultative-wet plants. Common examples are
cypress trees, willow, bull rush and cattails.
- Living without molecular oxygen.
- Occurring only in the absence of molecular oxygen.
- Growing in the absence of molecular oxygen.
To the writer, Federal and State expressions of the law to safeguard wetlands appear to differ, not only in wording
but in principle, and application. There would appear to be danger of allowing wetlands destruction by strict adherence
to written codes, without head to the real ecological damage the may be caused.
Consider the following in relation to wetland values and preservation..
Species diversity in soil: 30,000 species of bacteriaSimple single celled prokaryotic organisms. Many different species of bacteria exist. Some species of bacteria can be pathogenic causing disease in larger more complex organisms. Many species of bacteria play a major role in the cycling of nutrients in ecosystems through aerobic and anaerobic decomposition. Finally, some species form symbiotic relationships with more complex organisms and help these life forms survive in the environment by fixing atmospheric nitrogen.,
1.5 million species of fungiA large group of spore-producing organisms which feed on organic matter and include moulds, yeast, mushrooms, and toadstools, 60,000 species of algae and 100,000
species of protozoaHeterotrophic eukaryotic unicellular organisms that belong to the kingdom protista..
Over 30 years ago, Edward S. Deevey, Jr., delivered a statement to the National Water Commission entitled “In
Defense of Mud.” Deevey, a distinguished limnologist (one who studies inland
waters ) argued that mud, as the habitatThe place or set of environmental conditions in which a particular organism lives. of essential microorganismsExtremely small organism that can only be seen using a microscope.,
is as important as water to the health of this planet.
Mud is not all the same, and different kinds of microorganisms require different kinds of muddy water. By conserving
different kinds of mud, we conserve different, yet essential microorganisms, as well as different types of water
resources. Lakes, swamps, marshes and estuaries all have different kinds of mud and
Deevey was concerned with a common yet “dangerous misapprehension: the idea that balanced living systems
consist of animals plus plants. As long as the sun shines and the plants are green, it seems to follow that animals and
people have nothing to worry about. The truth, of course, is that no living system is ever balanced without microbes”
(1970). Microorganisms that live only in mud produce hydrogenase,
a catalyst for recycling natural materials. Hydrogenase breaks down nitrogen and sulfur in dead matter to forms that can
be used by plants to grow new tissueA group of similar cells that are organized into a structure with a specific purpose.. These microorganisms also
help reduce pollution by breaking down harmful compoundsA compound is the atoms of different elements joined together. and
contributing oxygen to the atmosphere. Hydrogenase producing microorganisms are found in the mudThe habitat for essential micro-organisms, is as important as water to the health of this planet. Edward S Deevey Jr
of lakes, swamps, marshes and estuaries.
Deevey concludes that the most valuable inhabitants of wetlands are sulfate-reducing bacteriaSimple single celled prokaryotic organisms. Many different species of bacteria exist. Some species of bacteria can be pathogenic causing disease in larger more complex organisms. Many species of bacteria play a major role in the cycling of nutrients in ecosystems through aerobic and anaerobic decomposition. Finally, some species form symbiotic relationships with more complex organisms and help these life forms survive in the environment by fixing atmospheric nitrogen..
Destruction of wetlands has reduced these bacteria and their habitatThe place or set of environmental conditions in which a particular organism lives.
by half, but the amount of airborne sulfur they need to process has more than doubled as a result of industrial
pollution. “To the last generation of conservationists, the haunts of coot and heron seemed to need no reasoned
defense from anybody. Henceforth, I believe, the ‘new conservation’ can take a more worldly stand. Its basis
is that hydrogenase, like water and oxygen, is no longer a ‘free good,’ but a commodity more precious than
we know” (1970)