Ever been to a wetland? Why should you want to go? 

Ever been to a wetland? Why should you want to go? 

A wetland is more than just wet land. It’s an area full of different types of plants, animals and soils. Think the New York City of nature. Wetlands are a melting pot of different types of homes for hundreds of species of insects, reptiles, fish and birds, many of which require a wetland situation to survive. And wetlands are just as packed with activity as any major metropolitan city is with people. What better place to see and enjoy all nature has to offer?
But wetlands also play an important part in our water supply’s quality and whether that supply is healthy or not. 
So, what is a wetland?
Wetlands are basically just that, areas large or small of wet land, most often with standing water, that can be shallow or deep. They support unique ecosystems due to their specific hydrology and soil conditions. 
A wetland can be divided into two categories: coastal or inland, and both can be found within the Brazos River Basin. 
Wetlands provide critical ecosystem services for wildlife habitat, taking various forms, including marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens, each with its distinct characteristics based on factors like how fast or slow the water is flowing, the amount and types of vegetation, and location.
According to the Texas Water Journal (TWJ), Texas has the fifth largest wetland acreage in the United States, with roughly 3.9 million acres of wetlands or over 2% of the state. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) most wetlands occur near the bottom land flood plains of East Texas, the marshes, swamps, and tidal flats of the Gulf of Mexico, and in the playa lakes of the High Plains.  

Wetlands and Wildlife
Wetlands support habitat for various wildlife. They provide a stopover, feeding, and breeding grounds for migratory waterfowl and nonmigrating wildlife. 
TWJ explains that Texas sits in the middle of the Central Flyway, one of the four major super highways for migratory birds in North America. The Central Flyway sees up to 400 million migratory birds pass through each year. Texas offers crucial stopover points for migratory birds; many follow marshes on the coast and playas in far North Texas as they take their annual roundtrip journey between their wintering and breeding grounds. 
According to an FWS report, riparian wetlands and wetlands along the Texas coast are great places to see migrants from Canada, like snow geese, Canada geese, and whooping cranes. 
Birds are highly effective indicators of environmental well-being and overall ecosystem health.
In addition to birds, many species of mammals in Texas are dependent on wetlands. Some species of bats tend to roost near or in wetlands, likely due to the concentration of prey in these areas.
Texas is home to 231 species of reptiles and amphibians, many of which are “obligate” or require wetlands to survive (71 amphibian and 12 reptile species). Of the 12 wetlands obligate reptile species in Texas, four are federally or state-listed as either endangered or threatened: alligator snapping turtle, Brazos water snake, Chihuahuan mud turtle, and Cagle’s map turtle. 
Sixteen of the amphibian species in Texas are also federally or state-listed as either endangered or threatened, including the Austin blind salamander and Barton Springs salamander, to name a few. For a complete listing of endangered or threatened amphibians and reptiles in Texas go here.
Many species of fish also rely on wetlands for their spawning, juvenile development, or life cycle. At present, over 170 and 180 freshwater and saltwater fish species, respectively, can be found in Texas. Many of these fish species are wetland obligate or rely on wetlands for some portion of their life cycle. Freshwater species like largemouth bass, bluegill, and catfish use wetlands for spawning and rearing their young. Likewise, saltwater species like red drum and spotted seatrout use wetlands as nursery areas during their juvenile stages. Some species require wetland habitat for the entirety of their life cycle. 
Alligator gar is the largest freshwater fish in Texas and one of the largest in North America. This species is often found in the backwater swamps and flooded riparian zones in the southern and eastern portions of the state and requires both wetland types to complete its life cycle. Alligator gar are slow-growing, long-lived, and believed to be declining in numbers throughout their range.

Water Quality

Most importantly, wetlands play an important part in our water supply’s quality.
Wetlands absorb and filter a variety of sediments, nutrients, and other natural and human-made pollutants that would otherwise degrade rivers, streams, and lakes. Some constructed wetlands are engineered systems often created with the goal of restoration, imitating the biochemical cycles occurring in natural wetlands. 

Where do I find a wetland?
There are several opportunities to visit a wetland within the Brazos River Basin. 

  • Lake Waco Wetlands is a man-made wetland near Lake Waco. The wildlife refuge with marsh and forest areas also includes an educational center. It is open every Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and closed on weekends. 
  • Brazos Bend State Park is located in the Brazos River floodplain in Needville, Texas. The park covers 4,897 acres, with 3.2 miles fronting the Brazos River. 
  • The mouth of the Brazos River is the very tip of the Brazos River Basin near Freeport. This area may only be accessible by boat or beach access. It’s also very close to the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area that borders the Brazos River and is part of the Central Coast Wetlands Ecosystem Project. 

Wetlands are critical to the health of our water supply and our ecosystem. From providing habitat for diverse plant and animal species to acting as natural water filters and serving as buffers against floods. Wetlands play a critical role in sustaining biodiversity, water quality, and overall environmental health. 
Whether you celebrate World Wetlands Day on February 2 or not, you can visit them anytime throughout the year to experience what they have to offer to the environment.