Wetlands are generally defined as a natural community where water is at or covering the surface of the ground for all or part of the year. Coastal Wetlands typically include mangroves, saltwater marshes, and seagrasses.For most of Florida's history, wetlands were viewed as worthless swamps to be filled for more productive uses, such as agriculture and home sites. Today, wetlands are recognized and protected for their value as habitat for birds and other wildlife, and for their role in protecting waterbodies from pollution.
Wetlands help to filter damaging nutrients and other pollutants from stormwater runoff. They stabilize shorelines against erosion from fluctuating tides, storm surges and flooding.
Saltwater Marshes are marked by a preponderance of various grass-like plants such as cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora and others) and rushes (Juncus romerianus).
Seagrass Beds in Southwest Florida are generally composed of broad-bladed turtle grass (Thalassia), and finer leafed manatee grass (Halodule wrightii) and shoal grass. Like all green plants, seagrasses are dependent upon sunlight for photosynthesis. Once extensive throughout the bays, dredging, filling, prop scarring from boats and decreased water quality from urban runoff, have greatly reduced the abundance of seagrasses.
Healthy seagrass communities are among the most productive natural habitat. The seagrass blades provide food for grazing herbivores such as manatees and sea turtles; provide a nursery for the juvenile stages of commercially and recreationally important species of fish; and provide a substrate to support the growth of a myriad of microorganisms.
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