World Wetland Day – Love your Carolina Bay!

In honor of World Wetland Day, I’d like to highlight one underappreciated wetland type which happens to be a personal favorite of mine.  Being a southern salamander lover, Carolina Bays have always been a fascination.

Fed largely by rain and shallow groundwater, Carolina Bays [PDF] are elliptical shaped isolated wetlands found primarily in Georgia and the Carolinas but range from Florida to Delaware.  The cool thing about these wetlands is their importance in maintaining biodiversity as they play host to a variety of wildlife including frogs, salamanders, turtles, snakes, alligators, herons, egrets and migratory water fowl.

In particular, salamanders, some of which are quite rare, depend on these small wetlands for breeding and protection from predators.  A 16-year monitoring study [PDF] of one Carolina Bay in South Carolina, for example, identified 27 species of frogs, toads and salamanders and recorded breeding activity of nearly 42,000 female amphibians and the production of more than 200,000 juveniles.  And that is just one Carolina Bay!  These wetlands play an enormous role in maintaining vulnerable amphibian populations that could easily be wiped out with loss of wetlands.

These so called “isolated” wetlands not only serve to integrate biodiversity, providing habitat for our favorite amphibians, but also play a beneficial role in supporting human populations.  Wetlands serve to absorb floodwaters, [PDF] slowing rainwater discharge, thereby allowing for groundwater supplies to become replenished. Wetlands also work to filter pollutants including nutrients, pesticides and other harmful chemicals, essentially serving as the kidneys of the water network. 

Despite the important role wetlands play in our water network, the US has lost over 117 million acres of wetlands with an additional 200,000 acres disappearing each year.

Carolina Bays are consistently listed as threatened due to lack of clarification regarding Clean Water Act protections.  These wetlands are often classified as “isolated,” therefore currently not protected under the Clean Water Act. In reality, these wetlands are hardly isolated. Scientists and researchers recognize such wetlands are complex but hydrologically connected to other waters, often through groundwater. 

American Rivers is urging Congress and the White House to restore previously longstanding safeguards for Carolina Bays, as well as all wetlands to ensure their protection for clean water, flood mitigation and biodiversity.