When one thinks of wetlands in the Chesapeake region, what usually comes to mind are the vast, tidal salt marshes lining thousands of miles of Bay shoreline. These tidal, or estuarine, wetlands play a crucial part in the Bay's ecology. But there is another type of wetland that has an equally important—but often overlooked—role.
Non-tidal, or palustrine, wetlands are usually found near the Bay's streams and ponds. They can also be found in poorly drained depressions. Water levels in non-tidal wetlands can vary from a few inches to three feet deep.
Of the total 1.5 million acres of wetlands in the Bay watershed, about 1.3 million are non-tidal. The Bay watershed's two most common types of palustrine wetlands are scrub-shrub and forested wetlands.
Alders, willows, buttonbush, swamp rose and silky dogwood can be found in scrub-shrub wetlands.
Forested wetlands are usually characterized by green ash, sweet and black gum, willow and pin oak, and red and silver maple trees.
Non-tidal wetlands perform a variety of functions vital to a healthy and thriving Bay watershed:
Non-tidal wetlands are packed with nutrients and are one of the most productive ecosystems on earth.
They host a multitude of wetland plants which in turn provide habitat for numerous animals.
Non-tidal wetlands are the nursery grounds for a wide variety of Bay creatures, including fish, amphibians, reptiles, waterfowl and songbirds.
Non-tidal wetlands also protect and improve water quality and control flooding and erosion, providing additional benefits to people living in the Bay watershed.
Non-tidal wetlands remove excess nitrogen and phosphorous from groundwater. They also contain sediment loads and absorb chemical and organic pollutants before they can enter streams and rivers, and eventually the Bay.
Just like a sponge, non-tidal wetlands help prevent flooding during large rain events by temporarily storing floodwaters then slowly releasing them.
Non-tidal wetlands act as a natural buffer between high ground and fast-moving waters, inhibiting property erosion.
Fishing, swimming, boating, waterfowl hunting, bird-watching and nature photography are popular activities in and around non-tidal wetlands.
Bay Program partners at the federal, state and private levels are heavily involved in protecting and restoring these valuable non-tidal wetlands throughout the watershed.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wetlands Reserve Program and Pennsylvania's Growing Greener Program provide funding to help landowners restore wetlands on their properties. Private groups such as Environmental Concern and Ducks Unlimited are also experts in wetland conservation and restoration throughout the Bay region.
Residents of Hampton Roads and the Greater Richmond area are learning how to “Save the Crabs, then Eat ‘Em” this spring with the return of Chesapeake Club, a multi-media campaign that educates residents about the Bay's nutrient pollution problem in a humorous way.
The Chesapeake Club campaign urges Bay watershed residents to hold off on fertilizing their lawns until the fall, when rainstorms are less frequent and the ground is better able to absorb nutrients contained in fertilizer. This helps protect the Bay's remaining blue crab population, which has been declining in recent years.
There are more than five million lawns in the Bay watershed, each potentially contributing fertilizer, pesticides and other harmful chemicals to the Bay via runoff into streams and storm water drains . Excess nutrients in the Bay cause algal blooms, which block sunlight from reaching bay grasses and deplete the water of oxygen needed to support all aquatic life.
Blue crabs use bay grasses as a nursery and molting area because the grasses protect the crabs from predators. Bay scientists have found that 30 times more juvenile crabs live in bay grasses than in areas without grasses.
Why should we care about the crabs? Because they're the main ingredient in those famous, delicious Chesapeake crab cakes, of course!
To help save the seafood, Chesapeake Club offers yard care tips so you can create a blue crab-friendly lawn. And if you'd rather leave it up to the professionals, there are a growing number of lawn care providers offering the Chesapeake Club standard of yard care.
Think of all the things you could do this spring instead of fertilizing your lawn: Go on a day trip to one of the Bay watershed's many natural or historic areas. Take a romantic getaway to a Bay island. Try a great new recipe for crab soup. Or eat out at an area restaurant that supports the Chesapeake Club.
So skip the lawn fertilizer this spring. Because is the grass really greener if all the blue crabs are gone?