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The Significance of Wetlands
ONC Editorial

Aug 14, 2023

Wetlands have important environmental functions and provide promising opportunities for economic, social and cultural recreation.

Wetlands are natural spaces where water covers most of the ground. The widespread presence of freshwater makes for unique ecosystems that host very specialized animal communities that can only be found in select geographical areas. 

In the United States, wetlands cover 5.5 percent of the land and exist in almost every county. However, they are concentrated in greater numbers around the Eastern Seaboard, California and the Midwest.

Wetlands have many different types, including marshes, swamps, bogs and fens. Marshes are periodically flooded and mostly host grasses. Swamps are usually fed by rainwater and other surface-water bodies. Both of them can host a variety of woody vegetation, from shrubs to large trees. 

Bogs are freshwater wetlands fed by underground water stores and usually host evergreen trees and shrubs and a thick layer of moss covering the ground. Lastly, fens, also fed by underground water pits, typically  host a variety of flowers and grasses.

All of these types of wetlands have important environmental functions. They help maintain water quality and quantity, create unique habitats for wildlife, compose beautiful and unique landscapes and hold great biological productivity comparable to tropical rainforests and coral reefs. They also provide excellent humanitarian and economic services. 

Wetlands help maintain water quality by acting as a natural filter, feeding cleaner water back to local rivers and streams for human consumption. They also help grow and maintain large amounts of vegetation that, in turn, act as soil erosion and flood prevention. 

Additionally, wetlands provide great opportunities for economic, social and cultural recreation due to their high level of biological productivity. Wetlands hold 31 percent of the U.S.’ plant species. This harbors unique biodiversity and allows for activities such as fishing, birdwatching and hiking, among many others.

Annie Llombart is a University of California Santa Cruz graduate with majors in Politics and Environmental Studies and a minor in History. She focused her studies on environmental policy, international relations and sociology. She has also worked at the United Nations with the Spanish delegation on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and as sustainability coordinator for Fundación Alternativas, a Spanish think tank. She is currently a law school candidate and seeks to pursue a degree in environmental law to further her commitment to protecting our world’s resources.


“Wetlands Factsheet Series.” EPA, 2022,

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