Wetlands are the soggy marshes found along shorelines and floodplains … and they do more for us than we do for them. Wetlands play vital roles: they provide flood and erosion control, create habitat for thousands of species, and defend coastlines from violent storms.

But rising sea levels are drowning tidal wetlands. Don Boesch is the president of the Center for Environmental Science at the University of Maryland. He says scientists project a one- to two-foot sea level rise in Chesapeake Bay by 2050. By 2100? Up to five-and–a-half feet.

When that happens, existing marshes will become part of the bay and new swampy areas will form further inland.

Boesch: “As sea level rises, those wetlands will move in and invade areas that are forested or agricultural lands.”

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In order to keep the rising seas at bay, many coastal communities are hardening their shorelines with seawalls and jetties. But these manmade structures can prevent new wetlands from forming further inland, so over time there will be fewer of them providing benefits.

So to address the problem, Maryland has passed legislation to limit the construction of seawalls – to help protect wetlands as they have always protected us.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media/Justin Bull.
Photo: Tidal pond/pool located just off the Chesapeake Bay in Lusby, Maryland (copyright protected).

More Resources
Marshes and wetlands beat seawalls when it comes to protecting people and wildlife
Center for Environmental Science
What is a Wetland?
Tidal wetland stability in the face of human impacts and sea-level rise
An overview of wetlands and water resources of Maryland

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is Editor of Yale Climate Connections. He started his environmental journalism career in 1974. He later served as Assistant Director of the U.S. Congress's National Commission on Air Quality,...