According to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, wetlands loss along the Gulf Coast accounts for 71 percent of the coastal wetlands loss in the United States each year.

“Louisiana’s coastal land loss is the greatest environmental, economic and cultural tragedy in North America,” said Phil Turnipseed, director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wetlands Research Center.

And even though coastal wetlands are recognized as water filters, flood water barriers and storm mitigators, the national loss rate has actually increased by more than 20,000 acres per year, up to 80,000 acres annually, according to a press release from Ducks Unlimited.

“Despite our best efforts at protecting and restoring critical habitat, these losses continue to erode the capacity for coastal Louisiana and Texas to support waterfowl in the single most important wintering area on the continent,” said DU Director of Conservation Programs Jerry Holden.

Coastal wetlands loss since the 1970s means today’s available habitat supports an estimated 3 million fewer ducks in Louisiana. And coastal marsh loss in Texas, combined with drought and the disappearance of rice fields, is adding to the foraging deficit on wintering grounds for species like pintails, the release states.

“We have to stabilize and ultimately reverse the rate of loss of these critical wetlands,” said Tom Moorman, director of DU’s Southern Region. “Ducks Unlimited works with a variety of state, federal and nongovernmental partners, as well as private landowners, to conserve and improve wetland habitats for waterfowl and other species, and we continue to look for ways to increase the rate of coastal wetland restoration with our partners.”

DU points to the NOAA study as support for their Gulf Coast Initiative and prioritization of Gulf Coast habitat conservation.

“We must all work together and make coastal wetland restoration a priority. These wetlands are vital for waterfowl, but also absolutely crucial to the nation’s economy and security,” Moorman said. “In the face of sea-level rise, coastal marsh loss and increasingly costly hurricanes, storm surge absorption is more vital than ever to the nation’s economic security.”

DU is currently seeking additional support for conservation projects via funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and also is involved in an innovative partnership with the rice industry to enhance working wetlands on coastal prairies connected to the marshes, according to the release.

The full NOAA report is available by clicking here