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Watershed Habitats-Freshwater Wetlands & Tributaries

One of Nature’s Most Incredible Journeys

Each year young American Eels make an incredible journey of over a thousand miles from their birthplace in the Sargasso Sea, north of the Bahamas, to East Coast freshwater streams like the tributaries of the Indian River. Only two inches long in its larvae stage, the eel drifts on currents, arriving by the tens of thousands beginning in early as January to our coastal rivers and streams, an amazing journey for so small an animal. They migrate varying distances upstream, often more than a hundred miles, over dams and spillways, where they will live for as long as twenty years. But eventually, they must return home. Each autumn, eels swim down our rivers beginning their journey back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn in the warm Caribbean waters, then die.

Pressure On Our Tributaries

Wetlands and tributaries are home to rare and unusual plants

As more and more land is developed, there is less land where rain can fall and soak in to the ground to recharge our aquifers. Roads, driveways, parking lots, roofs…all impervious surfaces. Much of this water is channeled to our streets to enter storm drains which drain into the nearest stream carrying all the debris and pollution that it collects along the way. The sudden torrent of water that enters during a storm, scours the bottom of the stream with its volume and carries fragile plants and animals along with it, eroding the banks with its velocity and turning the stream into a muddy soup carrying its load of silt to the Bays.

Many rare, even endangered plants, live in our freshwater wetlands. Some of the most interesting are carnivorous plants like the pitcher plant which has adapted to living in low nutrient areas by absorbing nitrogen from its prey, mostly insects, that are attracted into the pitcher shaped leaves.

Services Provided to Us by Freshwater Wetlands

Like the saltmarshes, freshwater wetlands are like giant sponges. They soak up and hold tremendous amounts of water during storms, reducing flooding. These wetland “sponges” filter the water very slowly, removing toxins and impurities from it before it enters our groundwater.

Saving Our Wetlands

For most of our history, we have drained, ditched and filled our wetlands. They are still being lost. They need our protection because we need them…for the diversity of species they harbor, for the fresh water they filter, for the protection they offer from flash floods. We have many wetlands in our Inland Bays…maybe one near you. Do what you can to protect it.