Your Questions Answered

November 2019

We often receive questions from the public about wetlands and why they are important. Tasha Dailey is certified as a Professional Wetland Scientist by the Society of Wetland Scientists and explains why wetlands are a critical part of our natural environment.

Q: What is a wetland?
A: A wetland is a distinct ecosystem that is flooded by water, either permanently or seasonally, where oxygen-free processes prevail. The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from water bodies is the characteristic vegetation of aquatic plants, adapted to the unique hydric soil. Florida wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bayheads, bogs, cypress domes and strands, sloughs, wet prairies, riverine swamps and marshes, tidal marshes, mangrove swamps and other similar areas. Florida wetlands generally do not include longleaf or slash pine flatwoods with an understory dominated by saw palmetto.

Q: Why are wetlands important?
A: Wetlands perform several vital functions, including improving water quality and providing flood protection. They are often referred to as Earth’s “kidneys.” Wetland plants and soils act as a filter, trapping pollutants as they move through the ecosystem. Wetlands provide flood protection by serving as storage areas for excess water, preventing damage to residential or commercial areas. Critical functions of wetlands include protection against erosion from storms and shoreline stabilization, particularly in urbanized areas. 

Q: Why are wetlands important for wildlife?
A: Wildlife habitat is an equally important wetland function.  Various wildlife species are dependent on wetlands for survival. Wetland habitats serve as shelter for nesting birds, fish, mammal and reptile species, and are ideal nursery areas for a wide variety of animals. Wetlands also provide recreational opportunities like hunting, fishing, boating, hiking and bird watching. 

Q: How do I know if I have wetlands on my property or in my neighborhood?
A: Wetland areas and the boundaries of those areas are not always evident, especially if they have been mowed, drained or otherwise altered. There are also certain types of wetlands that are dry during some parts of the year and may not be apparent to the untrained eye.  Wetland determinations and delineations are available to the public through both the water management districts and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. An environmental professional will conduct an inspection to confirm the absence or presence of wetlands and delineate the wetland boundaries on the property. Regulatory staff will review the wetland boundaries and a certified survey is generated by the applicant’s surveyor.

Q: What kinds of permitting authorizations do I need to do work in wetland areas?
A: It depends. Permits are typically required for dredging or filling of wetland systems. Several agencies have regulatory oversight of wetlands in the State of Florida, including federal agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), state agencies such as the water management districts (WMDs), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and local municipalities that could include county, city and all other local governmental entities.

Tasha Dailey
Regulatory Support Bureau Chief
Southwest Florida Water Management District