May is American Wetlands Month. At the Florida Wildlife Federation (Federation) we celebrate and work hard to protect wetlands and the rich wildlife diversity they support every day.
Wetlands used to cover more than half of Florida, approximately 20 million acres (roughly the entire size of South Carolina). Even though only half the original wetlands remain today, Florida still has the most wetlands in the country. Our wetlands are diverse and include types that are rare in other states, such as mangrove swamps and hydric hammocks.
Reflection in the Everglades, one of the largest wetland habitats in the world.
They have considerable economic and environmental value:
- Flood-plain wetlands reduce downstream flood damages
- Organic soils store large quantities of water and release it slowly to plants during drought
- Filter out and accumulate pollutants from surface water
- Home to many rare and endangered plant and animal species
- Breeding and feeding grounds for resident and migratory birds
- Nurseries for marine species
Tragically, Florida’s wetlands are viewed as obstacles to development across the state. Florida’s explosive population growth has resulted in a development boom, which has led to much of the wetland destruction
In 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted Florida’s request for broader authority over wetland development in a move to cut down on regulatory scrutiny that was viewed, by the development community, as expensive, cumbersome, and duplicative. In other words, the state wanted to administer a program to expedite the destruction of wetlands to accommodate further development.
With Florida’s unlawful assumption of implementation of the wetlands permitting process, checks and balances preventing environmental impacts were eliminated, resulting in a classic instance of ‘the fox guarding the hen house.’
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in Alachua County.
The Federation adamantly opposes this and is fighting for more wetland protections, not fewer. This is why the Federation, along with six conservation partners represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit to stop the unlawful state takeover of wetland permits for construction projects that will degrade and ruin Florida’s natural landscape.
Our vast and bountiful wetlands are a signature part of Florida’s unique ecosystem and the natural beauty of the Sunshine State. At the Federation, we celebrate our wetlands every day by fighting for their protection — even if it means pursuing litigation.
You can support our efforts to preserve Florida’s remaining wetlands today by making a contribution at the link below.
Fun Facts about Wetlands
What is a wetland?
To be classified as a wetland, an area of land must have water on the ground’s surface or in the root zone for at least a portion of the growing season. This seasonal fluctuation of the water period (known as a hydroperiod), is continually affected by the weather, the season, water feeding into and draining from nearby streams, the surrounding watershed, and other nearby bodies of water.
However, an area can still be a wetland, even if it doesn’t appear to be ‘wet.’ Because of the changing hydroperiods, water is the most transient part of a wetland ecosystem. Often, when ecologists suspect an area is a wetland, they focus on the next two characteristics, because these are less likely to fluctuate seasonally.
Hydric soils — the foundation of wetland life
Soils found in wetlands are called hydric soils. Hydric soils exist when an area is saturated, flooded, or ponded for so long during the growing season that the upper soil level is without oxygen. There are two types of hydric soils: those with decomposed organic material, and those without. Each has unique characteristics.
Wildlife and vegetation — wetland life
Wetlands support a wide diversity of life. Many organisms depend on wetlands completely for their survival, but even those who live in primarily aquatic or terrestrial habitats may rely on the ecotone border for a portion of the year, or for a portion of their life cycle.
Fluctuating water levels and variable salt concentrations create a harsh environment for wetland plants and animals, so to survive these harsh conditions, vegetation, and wildlife develop special adaptations.