Wetland ecosystems are critical for providing important ecological functions. For example, tidal marshes and coastal wetlands help in absorbing energy of storms and preserving shorelines, improving water quality in bays and estuaries, providing nutrients to marine food webs, and supplying critical habitat for both the reproduction of a suite of ocean species and for use by an entire community of breeding and migratory birds. Wildlife species that depend on wetlands are some of the highest conservation priorities, many of which occur in coastal US Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuges. Wetlands are increasingly influenced to some extent by anthropogenic alteration, and are threatened by accelerated rates of sea-level rise.

Monitoring the rate of wetland elevation change is a critical step in assessing whether or not priority wetlands on NWRs across the southeast will have the ability keep up with sea-level rise. 18 Refuges across the Southeast have been actively participating in the Coastal Wetland Elevation Monitoring over the past 10 years. The USFWS Inventory and Monitoring Branch recently finalized a protocol for the Coastal Wetland Elevation Monitoring network which can be accessed at: ServCat 118377. Additionally, the Branch has worked with the University of Delaware to develop a process to report on the observed wetland elevation trends observed at each site over the past 10 years: ServCat 118378.

Jerry Tupacz (USFWS) takes measurements at a Surface Elevation Table (SET) monitoring site. Photo by Michelle Moorman, USFWS.

Initial results suggest that forested and oligohaline wetlands are gaining elevation at a rate greater than sea level rise while salt marshes are barely keeping pace with sea level rise. Initial data from the pocosin sites suggest soil oxidation is occurring at varying rates within that habitat type. More sites are needed to assess overall trends in pocosin and forested wetland habitats. For more information on this project, contact I&M ecologist, Michelle Moorman (michelle_moorman@fws.gov)