Ecosystems: Wetlands – Critical Coastal Habitat

Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, and provide numerous tangible benefits to our nation's coastal communities. Wetlands provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife, protection from hurricanes and flooding, and recreational opportunities, as well as removing pollutants from our waters and recharging groundwater supplies. Unfortunately, our nation’s coastal wetlands are in decline, and are further threatened by increasing coastal development and rising sea levels.

> 50%

Percent of commercially harvested fish in the U.S. that depend on estuaries and nearby coastal waters at some stage in their life cycle.

Source: Lellis-Dribble et al., 2008


Percent of waterfowl and migratory birds that use coastal areas for resting, feeding and breeding habitat.

Source: U.S. EPA, 2011


Percent of coastal marshlands and swamps in the contiguous United States that would be inundated with 3 feet of sea level rise.

Source: Park et al., 1989

$23 billion

Amount of annual storm surge protection services provided to areas most vulnerable to hurricane and tropical storm surges in the U.S.

Source: Costanza, et al., 2008

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Download Wetlands Interactive Map and Data (1.1mb)

Source: NOAA CSC Coastal Change Analysis Program (C-CAP) Land Cover Atlas, 2010
Note: Wetland coverage in this data set was available for the contiguous United States only.

About this Topic

Data from NOAA’s Coastal Change Analysis Program are provided in this topic to show the current extent of coastal wetlands (freshwater, saltwater, and shore) and how they have changed between 1996 and 2006 in the Coastal Watershed Counties of the U.S. Only the contiguous 48 states are reported on currently for this topic. The change data are summarized for each state and show how much wetland area was either gained or lost to agriculture, barren land, development, and open water. The data show that in 2006 there was 88,569 square miles of wetland area in the Coastal Watershed Counties of the contiguous 48 states. Of these wetlands, 88% were freshwater wetlands and most of the rest was saltwater wetland. Florida had the largest amount of wetlands at 21,421 square miles, followed by Louisiana and Michigan, each with about 10,000 square miles. Louisiana had the largest amount of saltwater wetlands at 2,793 square miles. The change data shows that between 1996 and 2006, there was a net loss of 432 square miles of wetlands from U.S. coastal areas. The largest amount of net loss (243 square miles) was due to a conversion of wetlands to developed area. Florida had the largest area of net loss at 194 square miles, followed by Louisiana (70 square miles) and South Carolina (46 square miles). There is one case study, “What Exactly Does a Healthy Coastal Wetland Provide to Society?” which examines the goods and services provided by coastal wetlands. Also, there is a Coastal Voices video, featuring Kerry St. Pé, Director of the Barrataria Terrebonne National Estuary Program, sharing his perspective on wetland loss and consequent loss of a culture. A Management Success story is also presented, describing the “Restoration of Tribal Wetlands in the Pacific Northwest”.