by Brenda Zollitsch, Policy Analyst
In celebration of National Wetlands Month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has just released a fun and fascinating new online resource called “What’s Wild in Our Wetlands?” This new website is a delight for anyone who is looking to get to know the creatures that live in their coastal wetlands and understand the roles wetlands play in each coastal region of our nation. The site has been designed to share the importance of wetlands to fish and shellfish (including both commercial and recreational fisheries). The site is especially focused on helping citizens understand the relationship between wetlands in their backyard and the species that live in them.
The site’s base page shares about the range of values coastal wetlands contribute to each region. From there, the viewer is enticed to “click here” to explore coastal wetlands in greater depth. A single click of the mouse brings the viewer to an interactive map of the United States. The map allows the user to select one of the following coastal regions: North Atlantic, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, Gulf Coast, California, Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Hawaii or Puerto Rico.
Once on one of the regional pages, the viewer can learn about each primary kind of coastal wetland in that region and some representative species that live there. The visuals are beautiful yet scientifically accurate depictions of each species and they are accompanied by just enough information to be intriguing.
For example, I went to the Mid-Atlantic Region and picked sea grass beds as my coastal wetland type. Up came a page of beautiful images and a little bit of text describing each image. I learned that the scientific name for blue crab means “tasty, beautiful swimmer.” I was already aware that crab is popular seafood in the region, but I had not previously thought of them as “beautiful swimmers.” Now I have to say that I want to find a YouTube video of a blue crab just to check out their swimming skills.
Until I read the information on this site, I had little knowledge of or (let’s be honest) interest in the tautog fish. But thanks to this page, I can now picture a mottled brown spiny-finned tautog gnawing on barnacles with its powerful teeth….and the flounder changing colors to blend in with its surroundings. I know just enough to want to know more. I am able to visualize what is happening beneath the waters in wetlands along the coast and that’s an important part of creating first awareness, which opens the door to education and a desire to protect these valuable aquatic resources.
But there is something more I want to point out about this site. I have two young children and I am familiar with the formula of Freddie the Flounder who has some adventure and learns his lesson. Kids have read a million stories about what I would call “alliterated animals” who find their way in the world. However, when I showed my kids this site, they loved it. They were laughing about this one’s tooth or that one’s diet. These creatures are fascinating enough on their own; they don’t need a campy backstory. They don’t need to be anthropomorphized. This is thanks to the great work NOAA has done to find factoids that a non-scientist would find interesting about them. By doing so, I feel they have done a great service to coastal wetlands and the creatures that live in them.
On another page of the site, I was able to view information on Alaska’s Fresh Marshes. I knew there were many different types of salmon in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, but the layout on the website made it clear the differences which were clearer than other explanations I had read…and also the critical similarities — especially that they are all reliant on wetlands for part of their lifecycle.
For students writing a paper, there is just enough information specifically on these pages to write about differences in coastal wetland types or the range of animals that live in coastal wetlands or to pick a creature from their local coastal wetlands that interests them and then go find out more about them.
One thing I do wish the site offered is links to additional information about each wetland creature, but with the power of Google and other search mechanisms, this is hardly a barrier.
In summary, I am impressed with the stunning visuals, the easy-to-use layout, and the intriguing factoids. For a group of scientists to find that right balance between what one CAN learn about each species and what the general public, especially kids, would find the “just right” amount is remarkable. My hat is off to all who worked on the project. We here at ASWM will share the resource as broadly as we can. We hope you will link your sites to it and share it with schools in your region. But don’t take our word for it — take a moment yourself to check it out in celebration of National Wetlands Month and all that wetlands contribute to our environment, economy and well-being every single day of the year.
To learn what you can do to help protect coastal wetlands go here.