May is American Wetlands Month!

May 7th, 2012 by Sarah

Sunset over the marsh on Tangier Island.

A marsh and eroding island near Hoopers Island, Maryland

This May marks the 21st anniversary of American Wetlands Month! Wetlands are the transitional areas between land and water that are defined based on their soil and vegetation type. All wetlands are dominated by hydrophytes, which are plants that are adapted for life in wet soils. Wetlands also have hydric soils, which are soils that are periodically saturated or flooded.

Did you know that two major groups of wetlands are found in the Chesapeake Bay watershed? It’s true! In this region, we have estuarine and palustrine wetlands. Estuarine wetlands are tidally-flooded and range in salinity from fresh to salt water. Estuarine wetlands include the marshes found mainly along the shore of the Chesapeake Bay and tidal portions of rivers. Palustrine (non-tidal) wetlands are freshwater bogs, marshes, and swamps bordering streams and rivers, filling isolated depressions and fringing lakes and ponds.

Wetlands provide many significant benefits for fish, wildlife, and people.  Not only do they provide important habitat for fish and wildlife, their unique natural characteristics include floodwater and stormwater storage, coastal protection, and increased water storage and supply. Wetlands can also help protect and improve water quality, an important factor in Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts.

American Wetlands Month is a time to celebrate the important role wetlands play in our Nation’s ecological, environmental, and socio-economic health.  It is also a great time to inspire a better understanding of these vitally important ecosystems.  Bay Backpack’s Teacher Resource page includes Wetlands as a “keyword” and provides a wide variety of lesson plans and activities that you can use in your classroom to participate in American Wetlands Month.  Here are some featured resources that can help you plan your wetland-related educational activities:

  • American Wetlands Month website – This EPA website provides some great information about why we celebrate American Wetlands Month, including the history of American Wetlands Month, 2012 events, and information about wetlands.
  • Chesapeake Bay Program Field Guide – Wetlands and Marshes – Do you want your students to learn about some of the plants and animals that live in wetlands? This extensive, online recourse was created and is managed by Chesapeake Bay Program. It is a great tool, and is searchable by habitat or critter!
  • The Fragile Fringe – This free USGS website acts as a guide for teaching about coastal wetlands. The information and activities that are provided can be revised to accommodate different learning levels of students.
  • Why Teach About Wetlands? – This Bay Backpack blog will fill you in! It provides some basic information on wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay, and information on why and how you can teach about them.
  • WOW the Wonder of Wetlands – This instruction guide for educators provides a wealth of curricular materials to help you teach about wetlands.  It has been recommended by the National Science Teacher’s Association, and is available for purchase on Environmental Concerns website,
  • Teaching about Wetlands Flyer – The EPA produced this flyer to briefly explain why wetlands are important, why you should teach about them, and how you can teach about them.
Sarah Brzezinski a Chesapeake Conservancy Intern and serves as the manager of Bay Backpack. She is a former Chesapeake Research Consortium/Chesapeake Bay Program Fostering Stewardship Staffer.

Why Teach About Wetlands?

May 3rd, 2010 by Krissy
Can you find the great blue heron hiding in this Chesapeake wetland? Photo Source: Chesapeake Bay Program

Can you find the great blue heron hiding in this Chesapeake wetland? Photo Source: Chesapeake Bay Program

May is American Wetlands Month, a time to recognize the importance of this habitat for its ecological, economic and social health value. Take the opportunity in May to teach your students about the role of wetlands in providing habitat, clean water and reducing flooding risk.

Wetlands and open water at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.  Photo Source: IAN, Jane Thomas

Wetlands and open water at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Photo Source: IAN, Jane Thomas

So what is a wetland?
Wetlands are transitional areas between land and water. An area is defined as a wetland if it has hydrophytes (plants adapted to living in wet soils) and hydric soils (soils that are periodically soaked or flooded).

In the Chesapeake region wetlands can be further broken down into two categories: tidal and non-tidal. Tidal wetlands are flooded with salt or brackish water when tides rise and non-tidal wetlands contain fresh water. About 86% of the wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are non-tidal.

Why should YOU teach about wetlands?
Wetlands are one of the most critical habitats for hundreds of species of fish, birds, mammals and invertebrate in the Chesapeake region.  Tidal wetlands are a winter home for waterfowl that visit the Chesapeake Bay as they migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. Wetlands are also the nurseries and spawning grounds for blue crabs, fish and shellfish that waterman and fishermen depend on for their livelihood.  Roughly 2/3 of our commercially valuable fish and most shellfish use tidal wetlands as  nursery areas.

Wetlands also improve and protect the Chesapeake Bay’s health. These saturated areas between the land and the water act as buffers by slowing the flow of pollutants into the Bay and its rivers. As polluted stormwater runs off the land and passes through wetlands, the trees and grasses in wetlands filter and absorb nutrients, suspended sediments and chemical contaminants before these pollutants can flow to nearby waterways.

Wetlands also help control erosion. Just like a sponge, wetlands soak up and hold large amounts of flood water and stormwater runoff, gradually releasing the water over time. Wetlands along the edges of streams, creeks, rivers and the Bay stabilize shorelines and protect properties from floods and waves. Because of the high ecological and economic value of wetlands its very important that we keep them wet and wild.

So how do YOU teach about wetlands?
Luckily, there are tons of lesson plans available that focus on wetlands! Here are a few of the best ones you can use in your classroom. These include hands-on investigations that get students actively engaged in learning.

Krissy Hopkins is a former Chesapeake Bay Program Staffer and is currently pursuing her PhD in geology at the University of Pittsburgh.