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Free «Gulf Coast Wetlands» Essay Sample

Wetlands are a productive and invaluable public resource and therefore because of their importance and the current rate of wetlands loss the need to protect wetlands is critical (President's Commission on Americans Outdoors (U.S.), 1987). Gulf coast wetlands play a significant role in the conservation of coastal regions and heir environments' in most parts of the United States. The book published by President's Commission on Americans Outdoors (U.S.) (1987) says that there is a need for increased cooperative efforts among private, local, state and federal interests to protect and enhance wetlands. Besides this it is important that the concerned authority to create public awareness in order to educate Americans about the numerous values of coastal wetlands in the United States.   

Coastal wetlands are defined directly or implicitly in a variety of ways by putting into consideration factors such as personal perspective, position in the landscape and wetland diversity and function (Kent, 2000). For example, Kent (2000) says that "to an engineer a wetland may be a place that will require a specialized construction design to accommodate poorly drained soils" (p. 2). Kent (2000) also says that wetlands are transitional habitats in the sense that they are neither terrestrial nor aquatic, but exhibit characteristics of both. In this context gulf wetlands include familiar habitats such as marsh and swamp, and they may be tidal or nontidal, saline or fresh, lotic or lentic and permanent or impermanent (Kent, 2000).

Johnson et al (2009) says that damage of the gulf coast wetlands in the United States is a serious concern. This is because global circulation models agree that the impacts of climate change of all coastal areas in the country (Johnson et al., 2009). He continues to indicate that "Gulf wetlands in the United States are currently suffering from man-made impacts associated with land use changes, mangrove destruction, pollution and water diversion which make the ecosystem even more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change" (Johnson et al., 2009, p. 14). Johnson et al., (2009) thus says that the total mangrove area in the gulf coast region is disappearing at an annual rate of about 1 to 2.5%. From this predictions and observations of climate change in the gulf coast wetlands the whole state faces or may experience 10 to 20 percent decreases in water runoff nationally and as much as 40 % decline over the countries gulf coast wetlands.

Impact of population growth

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (1991) says that since the 1940s, Americans have been moving in big numbers near water bodies for example to the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean, the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean they a posing a major challenge to the conservation of coastal wetlands. The book continues to say that already "more than half of the population of the United States 52.9% as of 1987 lived within 80 kilometers of the coast where people are densely populated" (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1991 p. 248).

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Research regarding future population growth in gulf coast wetlands and in coastal areas has given different variations but demographers have agreed that coastal populations in the United States are increasing in absolute term (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1991). Projections also show that this will continue to rise in virtually all regions in the United States in the coming years. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (1991) says that "economic factors, recreational opportunities and the benefits of communing with nature at the gulf coast wetlands are all contributing to the movement towards the coast" (p. 248). This in turn poses a big challenge to the gulf coast wetlands and the impact can be felt as a result of the growing populations.

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (1991) further says that the growth in coastal populations is exerting strong pressure in these wetlands together with marine environment and its resources. In this context wetlands which support these ecosystems are being threatened by the pressures of population and habitat loss. The book further indicates that the gulf coast development boom has erected few new cities a pattern which has spared the environment the worst intensity and scale of urban pollution and it has subjected a disproportionally large area of the coast to disruptive human settlement (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1991).  

Due to population growth the new human communities once settled near the coastal wetlands become constantly growing sources of pollution. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (1991) says that "each day point sources such as sewage treatment plants and industrial and commercial facilities discharge some 48 billion liters of effluent directly into the wetlands or near the wetlands" (p. 248). It continue to indicate that in some areas non-point source pollution causes greater problems than pollution from point source because point sources are large and therefore they can easily be located and thus regulated (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1991).

The economic effects of coastal population growth and population growth in general are significant. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (1991) says that statics show on any given day one third of United States shellfish beds are closed to fisherman whether sport or commercial. This is because of pathogen contamination from sewage or agricultural waste. Also Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (1991) says that near shore fisheries in the wetlands are threatened by spawning habitat loss as result of coastal pollution and declining wetlands which has been attributed to population growth.

There is a need to have knowledge and understanding of the impacts of the population growth in coastal population on the wetlands. The impact of this population growth cannot be overlooked and hence there is a need to manage this growth. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (1991) says that "the challenge which result from population growth is to is to develop approaches to coastal development that protect the health of both coastal inhabitants and of the environment as a whole" (p. 248). The population should also be sensitized on the strategies which can be used in pollution prevention on these wetlands in the coastal area.

Global climate change

Studies show that wetlands posses the most productive ecosystem in the United States and one of the richest in the world (Johnson et al., 2009). In their further studies, Johnson et al (2009) suggest that the trend towards storms and weather related natural disasters in the United States. Lasserre & Campostrini (2007) says that "gulf coast zones are currently experiencing intense and adverse environmental pressures from a range of natural, semi-natural and anthropogenic drivers" (p. 5). This often results from increased resource use in the coastal regions, environmental protection and the incorporation of social and equity issues into decision making must evolve in the context of physical and ecological systems which show multi scale dynamics and considerable uncertainties resulting from future environmental change (Lasserre & Campostrini, 2007).

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According to Lasserre & Campostrini (2007) both short term and geological records show that coastal wetlands in the United States are particularly sensitive to changes within the coastal zone and areas surrounding the coastal regions. He thus says that because of such un expected occurrences changes in the wetland extent, position and type can be expected as accelerated sea-level rise increases forcing on wetland system to diminish or wear out. Lasserre & Campostrini (2007) further indicated that wetland loss may be associated with a range of natural processes including edge erosion and retreat, internal dissection by the expansion of creek networks and surface ponds. They further indicate that these losses may also be associated with changes in inundation frequency, water logging, vegetative and root decay and also human modification of marsh topography, sediment logy, ecology and hydrology (Lasserre & Campostrini, 2007). 

In the United States, Lasserre & Campostrini (2007) says that wetland change model provides an ever changing and an integrated assessment of regional to global patterns of coastal wetland vulnerability and wetland loss. In addition "global wetland concern determines the ecological sensitivity of different wetland types to environmental forcing the likelihood of transition to other wetland types" (Lasserre & Campostrini, 2007 p. 6). Lasserre & Campostrini (2007) continue to say that "looking at wetlands from the global perspective on the effects of wetland environmental change permits the assessment of the relative importance of sea level rise, sediment supply and coastal protection measures helps to reduce effects of wetland vulnerability" (p. 6).

Studies also show that it is important to assess the impact and vulnerability of the coastal zone to sea-level rise at regional and global scales and is driven by a set of internally consistent scenarios of sea-level rise and socio-economic drivers of societal sensitivity to plausible impacts of accelerated sea level rise and adaptive capacity (Lasserre & Campostrini, 2007). Lasserre & Campostrini (2007) says that gulf coast wetlands are also vulnerable to sea level rise and adverse human interventions and allows for the evaluation of a range response options from the global scope.

Lasserre & Campostrini (2007) noted that gulf coast wetlands in the United States are becoming a scarce commodity because of anthropogenic pressures and the failure of the present society in recognizing and conserving the values and functions of these ecosystems. This problem is not prevalent in the United States of America alone but also in other parts of the globe. Lasserre & Campostrini (2007) thus says that these values and functions include natural and socio-economic aspects. In spite the general climatic changes around the globe human pressure on the gulf coast wetlands zone has significantly increased the deterioration of these areas worldwide (Lasserre & Campostrini, 2007).

Since global climate change has its effects on these wetland zones strategies should be implemented to stop this process and to enhance ways of ensuring or promoting the conservation of these ecosystems (Lasserre & Campostrini, 2007). In addition Conner, Doyle & Krauss (2007) further indicated that "tidal freshwater swamps are expected to be among the most sensitive ecosystems to climate change and variability because of the entire associated climate factors that impinge their growth and survival" (p. 18). As a result of the gulf coast wetlands lying in coastal areas they are highly affected by stream flow, flood, droughts, tides, sea level and storms.

 Climate change according to Conner, Doyle & Krauss (2007) may be broadly defined as the pattern and range of climate variability for any processes or factors that change over time and they are known to adversely affect wetlands on most coastal areas around the globe. Conner, Doyle & Krauss (2007) found out that "the degree to which recent climate changes are attributed to natural or human causes is a debatable issue which  has resulted to increasing sea level and tropical storm activity which directly and negatively impact gulf coastal wetlands" (p. 14). They further noted that wetlands are readily affected by acute and chronic exposure to low levels of sanity caused by human beings. In this context Conner, Doyle & Krauss (2007) indicated that the combined stress of flooding and salinity may compound the threat in some systems such that the margin for survival of coastal wetlands and compensation to changing climate is much less than for other coastal and upland habitants.

Endangered species and the influence of economic variables on the environment

Scodari & Environmental Law Institute (1997) says that measuring the economic variable of wetlands in the United States on environment requires estimating the economic linkages among policy driven changes in wetland outputs and social welfare. Scodari & Environmental Law Institute (1997) continues to say that "coastal wetlands are a form of natural capital if left undeveloped and therefore they can generate flows of environmental goods and services into the indefinite future" (p. 57). On the other hand gulf wetlands can be converted to agricultural, residential or other development uses.

Research as indicated by Scodari & Environmental Law Institute (1997) shows that the benefit at state level of an undeveloped gulf wetland is largely independent of its value as a development site. This is because wetland values derive from the benefits provided by wetland goods and   services. Scodari & Environmental Law Institute (1997) continue to say that the social value of wetlands is represented by two major parts which include: use value and non use value. Use value represents the benefit individuals or a society derives from their actual or expected use of wetlands goods (Scodari & Environmental Law Institute, 1997). For example from the gulf wetlands people can derive use value from certain wetland services in an indirect way for example the ability of wetlands to store and gradually release storm waters benefits nearby communities by reducing flood damage to those communities (Scodari & Environmental Law Institute, 1997).

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According to Scodari & Environmental Law Institute (1997) non use values of gulf wetlands are associated with the economic value on the environment. These values are often referred to as existence values. This is because they do not depend on the current or future interaction with people or goods but they are closely associated with environment conservation. An example of this as indicated by Scodari & Environmental Law Institute (1997) is when "people express a willingness to pay to preserve certain environmental resources through monetary contributions and other goods that provide public benefits even though they may not have the opportunity to use the good and services flowing from these resources" (p. 58).

It is important to note that the economic variables of this coastal gulf wetlands vary in both their physical structure and ecological functions that is biogeochemical, hydrological and habitat functions and processes (Scodari & Environmental Law Institute, 1997). Scodari & Environmental Law Institute (1997) also says that the structural characteristics and ecological functions of wetlands provide a host of valuable goods and services to humans and ecosystems or the environment at large. This can thus be considered as direct or indirect economic variables. Some of the positive contributions include the provision of natural products, recreational opportunities and aesthetics associated with natural areas and open spaces.

The endangered species include natural products harvested commercially from the wetlands for example hay, water plants, peat, phosphate, timber and pelts. Scodari & Environmental Law Institute (1997) says that fish is also an endangered species because they provide food necessary for the survival of other habitats and for the survival of commercially valuable finfish and shellfish species. Other endangered species as indicated by Scodari & Environmental Law Institute (1997) are the "wetland plants which drive their primary productivity by converting organic and inorganic matter into useful nutrients" (p. 51).

Scodari & Environmental Law Institute (1997) says that the complex functioning of gulf coastal wetlands is that it provides a number of largely hidden ecological benefits. "These benefits have  large environmental economic benefits which include flood mitigation through flood storage and de-synchronization, shoreline anchoring, and surge protection functions" (Scodari & Environmental Law Institute 1997, p. 50). Also the ability of wetlands to store gradually release of floodwaters protects nearby communities from potential flood damage.

Apart from these benefits additional benefits is that many gulf coast wetlands in the United States is that they serve an important function of ensuring adequate improvement of water quality and supply (Scodari & Environmental Law Institute, 1997). Scodari & Environmental Law Institute (1997) further says that "the environmental benefits is that plants in this wetland  ecosystems trap sediments which reduces suspended pollutants and mitigates the effects of nonpoint source water pollution" (p. 50).

Concepts of ecological economics (energy, pollution and trade applications)

Tyson (2002) says that the environmental consequences of rapid growth of air and water pollution in cities and contamination of soils and water in rural areas are significant. He thus continues to say that the cumulative effects of these developments are felt and reflected in gulf coast wetlands. Tyson (2002) also noted that the "environmental consequences of the large scale exploitation of terrestrial resources for economic development are significant" (p. 178). This in turn has a direct impact on the gulf coast wetlands in the country. Land use and land cover in wetland regions has had an accelerated change over the past few years and the remains an ongoing feature of development in the coastal wetlands (Tyson, 2002).    

In his research Tyson (2002) indicated that the intensification and commercialization of agriculture to enhance trade applications has already had a significant effect on ecological and social systems in the world. Tyson continues to say that the common features of the transformation include shifts away from subsistence to cash crops, increasing use of fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides and the expansion of irrigation (2006). He also established that the magnitude of all these pollutants end up to be  residues and sediments after crop production into coastal wetlands which in turn is a global problem and is becoming a critical issue with its implications for marine life and biodiversity (Tyson, 2002). Another major ecological economic concern is that "in the coastal wetlands, mangroves and wetlands are under pressure for a variety of reasons including expansion of urban settlements, exploitation for fuel wood, agricultural development and construction of fish and shrimp ponds" (Tyson, 2002).

In addition Tyson (2002) says that the globalization of trade and liberalization of investment has had profound consequences for the environment and development in the United States. A major benefit of wetlands in the United States is that it has helped nations to bring in foreign exchange into the country through export oriented agriculture, forestry and manufacturing. Tyson (2002) thus says that "globalization has progressively increased the distance between consumers and resource systems and therefore pollution sinks and this has strained existing local and national environmental regulatory mechanisms to breaking" (p. 179).

Energy consumption increases directly proportional manner as the rate of growth of global economy increases. High diversity and productivity of tropical ecosystems mean that there is a high consumption of energy which is a considerable risk in ecological economics (Tyson, 2002). High energy consumption is associated with urbanization, industrialization, commercialization and the transformation of coastal wetlands. Therefore because of the associated changes in land use and land cover will affect the transport of aerosols and trace gases to the atmosphere and sediments, nutrients and pollutants to the environment and coastal wetlands (Tyson, 2002). Tyson (2002) established that the condition and dynamics of terrestrial and marine ecosystems are known to constrain development processes. Socio-economic and environment changes at various scales affect global environmental change and this also directly affects.

Importance of gulf coast wetlands in United States (At state level)

According to President's Commission on Americans Outdoors (U.S.) (1987) "Wetlands in the United States cleanse polluted waters by filtering and trapping pollutants such as phosphorus, nitrogen and suspended solids from waters which move through them" (p. 158). As a result many Americans cities actually use natural or artificial wetlands for secondary or tertiary wastewater treatment as indicated by (President's Commission on Americans Outdoors (U.S.), 1987). Another importance of wetlands at state level is that they have tremendous economic value. According to President's Commission on Americans Outdoors (U.S.) (1987) this is because studies show that wetlands contribute between $20 billion and $40billion a year to the United States national economy. This income is generated from wetlands dependent sport and commercial fisheries harvest. To further emphasize on the importance of wetlands in United States, President's Commission on Americans Outdoors (U.S.) (1987) says that the fish and wildlife service national wetlands trend analysis estimated that over 80% of 25 million acres of the wetlands lost between 1954 and 1974 in United States were converted to agricultural uses which in turn had a negative impact on the national environment and economy as well. 

In conclusion, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (1991) says that the consequences of energy trends on the environment and the gulf coastal wetland are not easy to describe in terms of ecological economic effects. The environmental policies have had a significant effect on energy policies. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (1991) says that because many governments implemented strict policies about the wetlands and therefore there has been a substantial reduction in the emissions of gulf coast wetlands. Due to the economic value associated with conserving gulf coast wetlands globalization should provide opportunities for their future development (Tyson, 2002). This will provide profound benefits for the global environment.


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