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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Wetlands Habitat

Marine Fisheries

Wet Lands
Hard Bottom Shell Bottom Soft Bottom Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Water Column Wetlands

Location | Function | Fish Use | Assosiated Species | Threats | Facts

Wetlands are wet areas commonly referred to as swamps, lowlands, marshes, bottomlands, and sloughsand are the most abundant coastal habitat type in North Carolina. These areas have plants and animals that are adapted to live parts of their lives in water.

Location of Wetlands

  • Wetland habitat extends into water as far as plants grow that live any of their lives out of water. Wetlands habitat extends onto land as far as to where plants grow that are adapted to live in water. This means that not all wetlands habitat is always underwater and wetland habitats include some areas that are only occasionally flooded.
  • Wetland habitat is broken into four groups based on the type of water they hold. These types are estuarine wetlands (e.g. salt marshes, estuarine forested wetlands), riverine wetlands (e.g. freshwater marshes, swamp forests), headwater wetlands, and flat/depressional wetlands. You can read more about the definitions of each wetland in the wetlands chapter of the CHPP document.

Function of Wetlands

Wetlands are well known for the multitude ecological services they provide. Wetlands have extreme economic value to society and even a narrow fringe of wetland edge for fish utilization and erosion control is of critical importance.

  • Wetland services improve the quality of adjacent habitats with their capacity for water control and filtration.
  • By spreading and slowing flood waters, wetlands decrease flooding in adjacent upland areas and downstream areas.
  • Some wetlands can store flood waters and slowly release it to surface and groundwater systems during periods of low flow.
  • Wetlands also act as a filter for nutrients and pollutants with forested wetlands in agricultural drainages having been shown to remove approximately 80% of the phosphorus and 90% of the nitrogen from the water.
  • Wetlands play a vital role in providing abundant food and cover for juvenile and adult finfish and shellfish
  • They can also protect upland habitats from erosion. Rooted vegetation stabilizes sediment, buffering against erosive forces and improving water clarity for SAV and benthic microalgae.

How Fish Use Wetlands

Adult and juvenile blue crab and grass shrimp can be found in wetlands habitats hiding in the thick vegetation from predators and searching in the shallow waters for food. Southern flounder are common residents of wetlands, evading predators as small fish and foraging for food as adults. Wetlands serve as important spawning sites for species of river herring, killifish, and grass shrimp. While, the abundance of prey species in wetlands attracts larger predators like sea trout and red drum.

Highly Associated Species

  • Blue crabs
  • Shrimp
  • Flounder
  • Sea trout
  • Red drum
  • Flounder
  • River herring
  • Killifish
  • Grass shrimp

Threats to Wetlands

  • Reduction in habitat quality from draining and ditching for roads.
  • Erosion from boat wakes reduces habitat.
  • Habitat loss also occurs from shoreline development, bulkheads and rip-rap
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N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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