An important study and corresponding conservation planning tool recently released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should help officials protect the most important areas along our nation's coastlines.

According to NOAA's analysis, the United States lost more than 1,500 square miles of coastal wetlands between 1996 and 2011.

"Ducks Unlimited is concerned about what this wetland loss means for waterfowl, but we also recognize the staggering economic and environmental impacts," said DU Chief Conservation Officer Paul Schmidt. "These coastal wetlands protect many of the nation's most populated areas; support large shipping, energy, and fishing industries; and provide habitat for millions of migratory birds and a variety of fisheries."

Studies of the Gulf Coast have documented significant increases in insurance costs stemming from flood damages caused in part by wetland loss. A series of studies indicated that of all the factors examined, a healthy wetland environment had the greatest influence on reducing flood damages. Likewise, areas with greater wetland loss had more significant flood damages associated with a given amount of rainfall.

Nationwide wetland loss has accelerated by 140 percent since 2004, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "There remains great need for funding to protect and restore these valuable coastal wetlands. There are many groups and individuals working to conserve and restore wetlands, but without significant investment and commitment from everyone, we won't be able to stem the loss," Schmidt said.

NOAA has provided the data and online mapping tools in the Land Cover Atlas to help federal and local officials prioritize coastal resiliency efforts.