What is a Wetland?

Wetlands are ecosystems where the presence of water saturating the soil for part or all of the year shapes the environment and, as a result, impacts the plant and animal life that call them home. These areas may be permanently or seasonally covered with water, supporting unique plants and wildlife adapted to moist conditions.

The Importance of Wetlands

Wetlands are among the most productive and valuable ecosystems on Earth. They provide critical benefits for waterfowl, wildlife, humans and sustainability, making their conservation a priority. Discover the multifaceted advantages of wetlands and why they are essential for ducks, wildlife, people and a sustainable future.

For Ducks and Wildlife

Wetlands serve as essential habitats for a wide range of species, including ducks, fish, and various other wildlife species. They are crucial for maintaining biodiversity and ensuring the survival of many creatures on our planet.

The interconnectedness of wetlands and the diverse array of species they support highlight the critical importance of conserving and protecting these ecosystems. Conserving wetlands is essential for maintaining ecological balance and supporting wildlife populations. Here are some of the types of wildlife that benefit from wetlands:

Other Wildlife

Wetlands are especially critical for ducks and other waterfowl species. They provide essential habitat for the survival and growth of waterfowl throughout their life cycle. Wetlands support pairs during breeding and nesting and are critical for raising young. Waterfowl also rely on wetlands for protection from harsh conditions and as a source of diverse food options, including seeds, aquatic vegetation, invertebrates, and small fish. 


Wetlands support abundant populations of fish, ranging from freshwater bass and trout to saltwater salmon and redfish.  They serve as vital spawning grounds, nursery areas, and feeding grounds. Wetlands provide sheltered environments with ample food sources, contributing to the growth and reproduction of various fish species. Additionally, wetlands help regulate water flow and temperature, creating suitable conditions for fish to thrive.


Wetlands play a crucial role as stopover points and wintering grounds for shorebirds during migration. Species such as sandpipers, plovers, and egrets rely on wetlands for feeding, resting, and nesting. Wetlands offer rich feeding grounds with abundant food resources, including insects, crustaceans, and small fish, supporting the energy needs of migrating shorebirds. Additionally, wetlands may provide safety from predators and adverse weather conditions during migration. 

Other Wildlife

Wetlands support a diverse array of wildlife besides ducks, fish, and shorebirds. Invertebrates such as insects, crustaceans, and mollusks thrive in wetlands, serving as crucial food sources for various animals. Wetlands are one of the most productive and biodiverse ecosystems on Earth, with 40 percent of all plant and animal species living or breeding in wetlands. Threatened and endangered species are no exception, with approximately half of all Endangered Species Act species in the United States being wetland dependent.

For People

Wetlands offer valuable benefits to humans as well. They provide recreational opportunities such as hunting, fishing, and bird watching, enriching our lives with outdoor activities.


Wetlands are popular destinations for waterfowl hunters. The diverse resources provided by wetlands attract and support 43 species of ducks and geese in North America, providing hunters with abundant opportunities to pursue these economically and ecologically important game species.


Wetlands support rich aquatic biodiversity, making them ideal locations for fishing. Anglers can cast their lines in wetlands and associated waters to catch a variety of fish species, including bass, trout, and catfish, contributing to enjoyable recreational experiences.


Wetlands are ecological hotspots for birders, offering opportunities to observe a diverse array of species in their natural habitats. From majestic waterfowl to elusive marshbirds, wetlands provide unparalleled opportunities for viewing and  photographing a multitude of birds.


Wetlands provide serene settings for kayaking and canoeing adventures. Paddlers can navigate through winding waterways, exploring the tranquil beauty of wetland ecosystems while immersing themselves in nature. The peaceful surroundings and abundant wildlife enhance the experience, making kayaking and canoeing in wetlands a popular recreational activity for outdoor enthusiasts.

For Sustainability

Wetlands play a significant role in promoting sustainability. They act as natural carbon sinks, aiding in the reduction of greenhouse gases. Furthermore, they enhance water quality, offer flood protection, and help prevent coastal erosion, contributing to the overall resilience of ecosystems and human communities.

Wetlands are indispensable ecosystems that offer a myriad of benefits crucial for both environmental sustainability and human well-being. Here are a few ways wetlands promote sustainability:

Water Quality
Carbon Storage
Flood Protection
Coastal Erosion
Water Quality

Wetlands play a crucial role in purifying water. As water flows through wetlands, plants and microorganisms filter out pollutants and nutrients, improving water quality before it enters rivers, lakes, and oceans. This process helps maintain the health of aquatic ecosystems and provides cleaner water for human consumption and agricultural use.

Carbon Storage

Wetlands act as natural carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis. This helps mitigate climate change by reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Flood Protection

Wetlands help mitigate the risk of floods by absorbing and storing excess water during heavy rainfall or storm events. The vegetation and soil in wetlands act as natural sponges, slowing down the flow of water and reducing the intensity of floods downstream. By serving as floodplains, wetlands protect nearby communities, infrastructure, and agricultural lands from damage caused by flooding.

Coastal Erosion

Wetlands provide critical protection against coastal erosion by acting as a buffer zone between land and water. The dense root systems of wetland plants stabilize soil and prevent it from being washed away by waves and currents. This helps maintain the integrity of coastlines, preserves valuable land, and protects coastal communities from the impacts of erosion and sea-level rise.


Biodiversity is what makes our ecosystems productive and healthy. Wetlands provide life-sustaining habitat for a wide diversity of species, including at least a third of the nation’s threatened and endangered species and more than 900 North American plant and animal species. Diverse ecosystems are more resilient to environmental changes and disturbances, such as climate change, invasive species and habitat destruction.

Types of Wetlands

Wetlands are diverse ecosystems categorized primarily based on soils, water source and the types of vegetation they support. Here are the two main categories: coastal wetlands and inland wetlands, each with its unique subtypes. Coastal Wetlands include: Tidal Salt Marshes, Tidal Freshwater Marshes and Mangroves. Inland Wetlands include: Freshwater Swamps, Peatlands, Freshwater Marshes and Riparian Systems. 

Coastal Wetlands

Tidal Salt Marshes

Coastal wetlands regularly flooded by tides, characterized by salt-tolerant grasses and plants. 

Tidal Freshwater Marshes

Coastal wetlands influenced by tides but with freshwater conditions, supporting diverse plant species not tolerant of salt.


Coastal wetlands dominated by salt-tolerant trees and shrubs, with complex root systems, found in tropical and subtropical regions.

Inland Wetlands

Freshwater Swamps

Freshwater wetlands characterized by standing or slow-moving water with vegetation dominated by shrubs or trees, such as cypress or oak species.


Wetlands with waterlogged conditions leading to the accumulation of peat (partially decayed organic matter), including bogs and fens.

Freshwater Marshes

Inland wetlands characterized by standing or slow-moving freshwater and dominated by herbaceous plants, such as grasses, sedges, or floating/submerged aquatic plants.

Riparian Systems

Wetlands adjacent to rivers and streams, characterized by periodic flooding and diverse plant communities adapted to variable moisture conditions.

Wetlands are Disappearing

Wetlands are among the most threatened ecosystems on Earth. Did you know that over the past century, the United States has lost more than 50% of its wetlands?

According to the recent 2009-2019 Wetlands Status and Trends national report, the annual rate of wetland loss in the conterminous U.S. has increased by more than >50% over the past decade.

Wetland Conservation

By supporting Ducks Unlimited, you will make a difference in protecting and restoring these crucial ecosystems. Ducks Unlimited and its partners have conserved more than 18 million acres of wetlands and associated waterfowl habitats—a tangible impact that demonstrates the power of collective action in safeguarding our planet's biodiversity. Join DU to help conserve  our wetlands for future generations.

Support Wetlands

How We Conserve

Moving Dirt

Ducks Unlimited doesn’t just talk about improving landscapes – we roll up our sleeves to get it done. See what techniques we use to keep habitat intact and improve existing wetlands.


Since 1937 we’ve relied on sound science to guide our conservation efforts. See how our science team is at the forefront of habitat and waterfowl research, and how land managers across the country rely on our expertise.

Public Policy

Ducks Unlimited actively advocates for wetlands in Washington, D.C. and in state capitals from coast to coast. Our legislative presence means wetlands stay protected and conservation remains funded. 


Protecting nature and restoring diverse landscapes is expensive, and we can’t do it alone. Learn more about Ducks Unlimited supporters, partnerships and fundraising events.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • An ecosystem where water covers the soil, either seasonally or permanently.

  • Over 900 species including birds, mammals, and many types of fish. 

  • They act as natural water filters, carbon sinks, provide flood protection and more. 

  • Wetlands across North America are threatened by wetland drainage, coastal wetland loss, the impacts of climate change and more. 

  • Through conservation efforts and supporting organizations focused on wetland conservation like Ducks Unlimited.