Making the most of a meal
Protecting Cows—and People—from a Deadly Disease
Vitamin D-licious Mushrooms
Tree Frogs
A Meal Plan for Birds
Lucky Survival for Black Cats
Mind-reading Machine
The case of the headless ant
Lost Sight, Found Sound
Chemistry and Materials
The Taste of Bubbles
Undercover Detectives
Watching out for vultures
Small but WISE
It's a Small E-mail World After All
Supersonic Splash
Dinosaurs and Fossils
South America's sticky tar pits
Hunting by Sucking, Long Ago
Did Dinosaurs Do Handstands?
E Learning Jamaica
2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
Results of GSAT are in schools this week
E Learning in Jamaica WIN PRIZES and try our Fun Animated Games
Pollution at the ends of the Earth
Salty, Old and, Perhaps, a Sign of Early Life
Explorer of the Extreme Deep
Saving Wetlands
Plant Gas
Improving the Camel
Finding the Past
Childhood's Long History
Preserving Ancient Warrior Paint
Fakes in the museum
Food and Nutrition
A Pepper Part that Burns Fat
Recipe for Health
How Super Are Superfruits?
GSAT English Rules
Problems with Prepositions
Whoever vs. Whomever
GSAT Exam Preparation Jamaica
GSAT Scholarship
March 21-22, 2013: Over 43,000 students will take the GSAT Exam
10 Common Mistakes When Preparing for the GSAT Math Test
GSAT Exams Jamaica Scholarships
Access denied - Disabled boy aces GSAT
GSAT Exam Preparation
GSAT Practice Papers | GSAT Mathematics | Maths
GSAT Mathematics
Math Naturals
GSAT Practice Papers | GSAT Mathematics | Maths
Setting a Prime Number Record
Human Body
Sea Kids See Clearly Underwater
Taking the sting out of scorpion venom
Attacking Asthma
Giant Clam
Doberman Pinschers
Children and Media
The Surprising Meaning and Benefits of Nursery Rhymes
Expert report highlights the importance to parents of reading to children!
The Particle Zoo
Spin, Splat, and Scramble
Speedy stars
Making the most of a meal
Fastest Plant on Earth
Seeds of the Future
Garter Snakes
Gila Monsters
Space and Astronomy
Slip-sliding away
An Earthlike Planet
Return to Space
Technology and Engineering
Bionic Bacteria
Slip Sliming Away
Weaving with Light
The Parts of Speech
What is a Verb?
Adjectives and Adverbs
Robots on the Road, Again
Middle school science adventures
Tinkering With the Basic Bike
Recipe for a Hurricane
Science loses out when ice caps melt
The solar system's biggest junkyard
Add your Article

Saving Wetlands

There's water, and there's land. Somewhere in the middle, there are wetlands. Not totally flooded by water, but not completely dry either, these in-between places rank among the richest ecosystems on Earth. Marshes, mangroves, bogs, swamps, bayous, prairie potholes, and other wetlands often have more plant and animal life than any lakes, rivers, grasslands, forests, or hillsides nearby. Baby fish and shellfish thrive in the protected waters of shallow estuaries, where rivers meet the sea. Many types of migratory birds spend their winters in marshes or stop there to rest during their travels. Wetlands are full of salamanders, frogs, turtles, snakes, and alligators, as well as sea grasses and other specialized plants. "They're really beautiful environments," says Denise Reed of the University of New Orleans. She studies landforms and the processes that made them. Reed is determined to get people to care about wetlands—and not just because they're beautiful. Wetlands also help preserve water quality. They protect land from getting battered by storms. And they fuel billions of dollars worth of recreation, fisheries, and other industries. Disappearing marshes Unfortunately, the world's wetlands are disappearing. In the last few hundred years, more than half of the wetlands in the United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) have vanished, according to the National Wetlands Research Center. The center is part of the U.S. Geological Survey. Louisiana's wetlands, in particular, are in need of help. Even though it's a fairly small state, Louisiana holds 30 percent of the nation's coastal marshes along its meandering coastline, especially where the Mississippi River drains into the Gulf of Mexico. Yet, of all marshes that have disappeared in the U.S., 90 percent were in Louisiana, according to an organization known as America's Wetland. This group is dedicated to saving the Louisiana coast. During the 20th century, 1.2 million acres of land were lost along the state's coast. Between 1990 and 2000, alone, the equivalent of a football field-sized area of wetland disappeared every 38 minutes. These are more than just numbers. As wetlands vanish, fish and migrating birds lose critical habitat. Some of these species are already endangered. Human lives are at stake, too. More than half of Louisiana's population lives along the water, and many of these people rely on fishing and shipping to survive. "I think it's one of the biggest environmental issues there is," says Garret Graves. Graves grew up in Louisiana but now lives in Washington, D.C., where he works with Louisiana politicians to create laws that will help restore the area. Vanishing mystery Why Louisiana's wetlands have been disappearing has long puzzled researchers. Now, after several decades of research, some of the reasons are becoming clearer. The culprit isn't normal erosion, which happens when waves gnaw away at the land. In this case, the marshes are falling apart from the inside out. Walking through the wetlands used to be like slogging through a squishy field of wet hay. Now, invisible holes lie all over the place. People walking around in the marshes today can fall up to their knees in water without warning, Reed says. "It's like a Swiss cheese effect." Why this is happening is a complicated question. There seem to be a number of factors involved, Reed says. One is the Mississippi River. Water used to come down the Mississippi full of sediment and dirt, which piled up in the marshes and kept them sturdy. Flooding was part of the normal course of things, and the process helped distribute sediment. Then, in the mid-1900s, oil companies discovered a huge quantity of oil and gas just off the coast of Louisiana. They built extensive networks of canals, called levees, to control the flow of the river, providing better access to Earth's natural resources. These efforts ended up changing the flooding cycle. Sediment couldn't spread through the marshes, and the wetlands grew weaker. Next came development, which filled in marshes to build parking lots, shopping centers, and houses on top of the wetlands. Large rat-like animals called nutrias are also causing problems. In a healthy marsh, the animals simply graze year after year without causing too much damage. When a marsh is stressed out, though, nutrias eat away at them. All these stresses add up. "There's no one factor you can point to and say, 'This is the culprit. Here's the smoking gun,'" Reed says. "There are many things going on that cause stress to wetlands. The wetlands could take any one or two of them. Once you get three or four on top of each other, though, the marsh just can't hang on anymore." Trapping sediment Now that scientists have a good idea of what's happening to the wetlands, the next challenge is to figure out how to fix the problem, Reed says. In her research, she's trying to understand why some marshes have managed to survive, even as so many others have vanished. "How do they keep their heads above water?" she asks. "Where do they get their sediment from? How do they build themselves up when the land is subsiding?" For about 10 years, Reed has been scattering sediment traps made out of filter paper on the surface of marshes in Louisiana. She attaches the traps to the ground with aluminum wire. Then, she checks them every 2 weeks. The traps are clean when Reed puts them in and muddy when she comes back. With the data she collects, she can track when and how much sediment builds up over short periods of time and over the years. She also takes samples of the soil to study how plant roots might help hold a wetland together. Among her results, Reed has found that hurricanes actually deposit a lot of sediment in salt-water marshes. "Everyone thinks 'Hurricanes, oh my God, they're so bad,'" Reed says. "It is bad for people. For marshes, it keeps them going." Political action Even as research continues to help scientists understand what wetlands need, understanding can go only so far, Graves says. The only way to truly reverse wetland destruction, he argues, is through politics. It would cost $15 billion to cut slits in the earth and restore natural sediment flow patterns along the Louisiana coast, Graves says. That's money the state doesn't have. He wants the U.S. Congress to create new laws that would give Louisiana a big chunk of the profits that come from the oil and gas obtained off its coast. The state could then put this money toward reconstructing the environment. Right now, the U.S. government officially owns these resources. Despite 8 years of work on the issue, Graves hasn't seen much progress. His passion has grown with his frustration. Scientists and politicians aren't the only ones who have grown passionate about Louisiana's wetlands. Kids have started to get involved, too. Earlier this year, an educational program called the JASON Expedition gave middle school students a close look at wetland research in Louisiana. Most of the students participated in the expedition through the Internet and live satellite broadcasts, but some actually got to dig in the mud and explore the science with their own hands. By the end of the weeklong program, the most popular question from kids, Reed says, was, "What can I do?" The answer, she says, depends on where you're from. You may not live in Louisiana or even near a coast. Chances are, though, Louisiana's problems hit closer to home than you might think. Nearby wetlands "Almost everyone has a wetlands nearby," Reed says. If you're looking for a science fair project idea, she suggests, go find out about your local wetlands. "As you learn and understand it better, you might then see things you can do in terms of cleaning it up," she says. "Learning is part of doing something. Try to understand how it works." Find out what sustains the wetlands in your area, why they're there, and what they give to your community. Think about the water that drains into them, where it comes from, and what you can do to keep it clean. Using less water is something everyone can do, Reed says. This helps keep rivers and lakes full, which reduces the strain on wetlands. Paying attention to what goes down storm drains can protect them, too. If you're really inspired, you can study to become a wetland ecologist. Wetlands are fascinating systems to study, Reed says, because they're always changing. When the fish are jumping, the birds singing, and the marshes green, wetlandscapes can be beautiful. Even better, they're full of mud, and studying them requires hands-on slogging through squishy dirt and mud, Reed says. "Who doesn't like getting dirty?" Whatever we do, it's important to do it soon, she adds. "This system could be in radically different shape in 10 years if we get moving," she says. "If we stay this way, it's still going to be in radically different shape, but in the wrong direction."

Saving Wetlands
Saving Wetlands

Designed and Powered by™