A wetland is an area that is saturated with either surface water or groundwater at a frequency and duration to support vegetation adapted to this type of environment. It includes swamps, hammocks, riverine cypress and cypress ponds, bogs, tidal flats, salt marshes, mangrove swamps, etc. Unfortunately, for decades wetlands were viewed as mosquito-infested waste lands. Developers were quick to fill them in and build houses, and a willing public was only too happy to buy. Today we know that wetlands deserve to be protected because of all the vital ecologic, economic, and aesthetic functions they serve, such as:
- Wetlands help control flooding and erosion by storing excess stormwater. By providing temporary storage, water rises less rapidly and reduces the depth of floodwater. Groundwater supplies are recharged from collected water that infiltrates below the surface.
- Wetlands are among the most biologically productive natural ecosystems in the world. Vegetation grows quickly here, providing food for plant-eating fish and shellfish. Plant material that is not eaten becomes “detritus” – rich organic soil – and is food for aquatic species. Many species seek out the relative tranquility of the wetlands to breed and lay eggs.
- Wetlands filter pollutants. As rainwater and stormwater runoff passes through wetlands, much of the dissolved or suspended pollutants in the water become trapped by plants and soil, where they are converted into food for aquatic organisms. Sediment is also captured in the wetlands, keeping it out of rivers and lakes where water clarity is important for larger species.
- The presence of water always enhances outdoor activities like canoeing, hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, bird watching, and nature photography. Simply standing still and gazing at the beauty of a natural wetland is a soothing and peaceful pastime.
Approximately 30% of Flagler Beach is wetlands, and the City is serious about protecting them. In the Land Development Code, Article IV – Resource Protection Standards, Section 4.00.00 – Wetlands, the rules and regulations for development near wetlands are delineated, including acquiring permits from city, state, and federal regulators, when necessary. There is a minimum 25-foot buffer between the wetland and any development. Native vegetation within the 25-foot buffer must remain in place, although invasive species, brush, and small trees less than 2 feet in diameter can be cleared by hand. A few construction activities are allowed, such as the boardwalk at Betty Steflik Park and Flagship Harbor. Be sure to talk to an official in the Building Department before considering any project in the wetland buffer. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a National Wetland Inventory on their website. To learn more about wetlands and to generate your own wetland map, visit the National Wetlands inventory website and choose Wetlands Mapper.