Reefs and the Importance of Wetland Protection

By Kayla Duarte

“Wetland conservation, wetland conservation, wetland conservation!”

I can still hear my high school AP environmental science teacher’s voice as she tried with all her might to drill its importance into our impressionable brains. To her, wetland preservation, especially being a native from the coasts of Southern California where wetland deterioration is prominent, is the single most important thing one could do to protect the environment. At the time I thought she was being melodramatic, but now, as a participant in the USC Environmental Studies Maymester Program in Micronesia, I finally get it. Wetland protection is no longer a novel idea thrown frantically at me by my high school teacher, but something that has become completely relevant and important to my college studies.

I know what you are thinking.

What does studying the reefs on Guam have to do with wetland protection?”

The simple answer is EVERYTHING. However, to truly understand their importance one must first know what a wetland is.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Corp of Army Engineers for regulatory and enforcement purposes have defined wetlands as:

“Areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs and similar areas.”

Guam’s government adds to this definition by including aquatic life and aquatic vegetation with attention paid to mangroves, natural ponds, surface springs and estuaries (GEPA).

“So why are they important?”

According to the Guam Environmental Protection Agency (GEPA), all ecosystems under their governance provide the natural ecosystem function of filtering inflows of water and eroded soils. This is important not only for water quality management but also for flood control. For example, the Agana Swamp, both historically and today, continues to limit downstream flooding in the city of Agana. In terms of coral reef health, these wetlands greatly reduce the amount of sediment that reaches the island’s fringe reefs, preventing it from potentially being smothered. Unfortunately, the wetlands of Guam and the many organisms that depend on them are undervalued and threatened. According to GEPA, 9 out of 19 different wetland sites on-island suffer from various forms of pollution, which include contamination by oil, hazardous waste, heavy metals, urban runoff, and development.

The most effective regulations for monitoring wetland areas are the Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. Recently, GEPA drafted a Wetland Conservation Plan with the aim of achieving “No Net Loss” of the important values and functions of Guam’s 5,000 plus acres of wetland resources. The plan features four overarching objectives: a wetland identification program complete with classification and prioritization, conservation through wise-use management, mitigation, preservation and restoration, education and outreach, as well as legislature that will work to amend agency rules, explore the potential of new legislation and clarify regulatory responsibilities among Guam and federal agencies.

While the Wetland Conservation Plan is still only in the draft stages, I am hopeful that it will be an effective tool for managing Guam’s fragile wetland areas. Through conservation and protection, not only will current generations reap benefits, but it ensures future generations will be able to as well.

And to my high school AP Environmental Studies teacher out there: you win – wetland conservation is truly important!


About the Author: Kayla Duarte is a senior in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and will graduate with a BA in Environmental Studies and a minor in marketing. She is interested in marine preservation and plans to pursue a career in environmental investment.

Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.

Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

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