Florida’s wetlands are one of the most iconic parts of our natural landscape. Nearly a fifth of the total wetland area in the United States is found in the sunshine state. Not only do we have a lot of wetland habitat by area, but we have an incredible diversity of wetlands – here you can find coastal and freshwater marshes – including the 1.5 million acre expanse of the Everglades – seepage slopes, wet prairies, cypress domes, steepheads and mangrove swamps.
Wetlands also provide vital ecosystem functions. They are sometimes referred to as “nature’s kidneys” for their ability to filter excess sediment and nutrients from water, which can reduce the need for expensive water treatment centers. In fact, wetlands are so effective that water managers will often construct wetlands for the express purpose of water treatment. Wetlands also are effective at flood control, as they can act as sponges that will quickly absorb and slowly release surges of water.
Unfortunately, these crucial ecosystems are also highly threatened; exotic plants and animals, groundwater withdrawal, pollution, and development all pose very real threats. Florida has already lost more than half of its original wetland area. The good news? There are many programs in place to help protect these important places.
December 13 will mark the 30th anniversary of the enactment of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). The act converted existing funds into a trust fund used to provide grants for wetland conservation. Here in Florida, NAWCA grants and partner contributions have provided more than $60 million to conserve and restore over 100,000 acres of wetland. Many popular sites on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail have benefited from the act, including Arthur R.Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, and Biscayne National Park.
Another federal program that has been incredibly effective is the Duck Stamp. Purchasing a federal Duck Stamp is a simple action you can take to help protect our wetlands. You may be familiar with the Duck Stamp in the context of hunting, as all duck hunters are required to purchase them, but the stamps aren’t just for hunters – or just for ducks. 98% of the purchase price goes back into purchasing land or conservation easements for our National Wildlife Refuges, which benefit all wetland-dwelling birds and wildlife. Here in Florida, refuges such as St. Vincent NWR, J.N. Ding Darling NWR, and St. Marks NWR have all benefitted from funds raised from Duck Stamp sales. Beyond promoting conservation, your Duck Stamp will also get you free admission to any NWRs that charge an admission fee – a win-win for birds and the birders who love them. There are many places to purchase your stamp – many post offices and national wildlife refuges carry them, or you can buy online after logging into FWC’s Go Outdoors Florida page!