Despite their immense value to people and wildlife, coastal wetlands are among North America's most threatened habitats. Thousands of square miles of marsh have already been lost or degraded, and many remaining coastal wetlands are threatened by various forms of development. In the future, another looming threat–rising sea levels–could have far-reaching impacts on coastal wetlands and the fish and wildlife that depend on them (see sidebar).
Ducks Unlimited has long recognized the importance of coastal wetlands to waterfowl and people. Guided by the latest science, DU is working with many partners to plan and deliver long-term conservation initiatives in key coastal ecosystems. Following is an overview of major threats facing coastal wetlands in several especially important areas to waterfowl and DU's efforts to conserve these fragile environments for current and future generations.
U.S. Gulf Coast
The U.S. Gulf Coast has approximately 3.5 million acres of tidal wetlands, roughly 2 million acres of which are found in south Louisiana. These extensive marshes and the adjacent coastal plain host upwards of 14 million ducks and 2 million geese–including large portions of the continent's migrating and wintering gadwalls, green-winged teal, redheads, lesser scaup, and blue-winged teal as well as resident mottled ducks. In recent years, the Louisiana Gulf Coast has become ground zero for both coastal wetland loss and the efforts to conserve these threatened habitats. Levees built along the lower Mississippi River have limited and contained historic flooding, robbing coastal wetlands of the sediments that once sustained them and leaving the marsh highly vulnerable to erosion, subsidence, and rising sea levels. In addition, networks of manmade canals funnel saltwater into interior wetlands, hastening the loss of freshwater and intermediate marsh of vital importance to waterfowl. Since the 1930s, more than 1,900 square miles of these vital wetlands have been lost to the Gulf, and marsh loss continues at an alarming rate. Several recent hurricanes have also taken a toll on Gulf Coast wetlands, resulting in a net loss of more than 200 square miles of marsh in Louisiana alone.
To help turn the tide of wetland loss along the U.S. Gulf Coast, Ducks Unlimited works with a broad coalition of state and federal agencies, corporations, foundations, and private landowners to conserve these vital waterfowl habitats. DU leverages funding from partners such as CN, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Ron and Jackie Bartels, the ExxonMobil Foundation, Freeport-McMoRan Foundation, Delores George LaVigne, the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation, Shell Oil Company, and TransCanada to secure North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grants for coastal restoration. Over the last four years, DU has secured more than $15 million for wetlands conservation projects in Louisiana. Since beginning conservation work in Louisiana during the late 1980s, DU has helped to conserve nearly 100,000 acres of coastal wetlands in the state. In neighboring Texas, DU and partners have conserved an additional 170,000 acres of wetlands along the Gulf and adjacent coastal prairies with funding from NAWCA, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Jim and Cherie Flores, the Dr. Edward D. and Sally M. Futch Charitable Foundation, Houston Endowment, The Meadows Foundation, Billy and Alice Oehmig, and Richard and Jenny Schimpff.
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