For much of human history, wetlands were considered nuisance habitats that would better serve humanity if drained or filled. We now know that wetlands play a key ecological role and provide ecosystem services worth billions of dollars.
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Left: Wetlands are like kidneys, filtering pollution from runoff before it enters our waterways.
Right: Wastewater treatment plants serve a similar purpose but cost billions of dollars to build and operate.
Nurture Young Fishes
Left: Wetlands nurture the young of many commercially and recreationally important marine species.
Right: Hatcheries are expensive to run, and vulnerable to disease outbreaks and other effects of crowding.
Left: Wetlands temper global warming by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air.
Right: Human efforts to capture and store carbon are costly, with unknown side-effects.
Left: Wetlands soak up excess rainfall, slow runoff, and reduce hurricane storm surge.
Right: Levees cost millions of dollars per mile and encourage flood-plain development. Their sudden failure can lead to catastrophe.
Left: Coastal wetlands protect shorelines from scour by waves.
Right: Bulkheads are costly and can actually worsen the erosion they are meant to control.