The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released an important study and conservation planning tool that could help officials  protect coastal wetlands, according to a press release from Ducks Unlimited.

According to NOAA’s analysis, more than 1,500 square miles of wetlands were lost 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,” DU Chief Conservation Officer Paul Schmidt said. “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.”

The NOAA report cites a total of nearly 65,000 square miles of land change – development and loss of forests and wetlands – along the coast, resulting in diminished protection from rising sea levels, storm and tidal surges, and other events that have dramatic effects on coastal communities and populations.

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

Studies of the Gulf Coast documented significant impacts of wetland loss due to flood damages based on real insurance costs. A series of studies indicated that of all the factors examined, a 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, the release states.

“In addition to wildlife habitat loss, wetland loss is bad for flood control, storm protection and water quality,” Schmidt said. “It’s costly to taxpayers, insurance companies, individuals and businesses, and coastal wetland loss has far-reaching repercussions to the national economy, which is dependent on coastal infrastructure and products. We know wetlands provide enormous economic and ecological values, yet loss of these economic stabilizers continues to accelerate.”

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.