Armed with the Delaware Wetlands Conservation Strategy, scientists and volunteers across the state have increased efforts to slow wetland loss and help keep wetlands productive and healthy. The strategy, introduced in Oct. 2008, is being used to guide and coordinate efforts and maximize resources to best protect all wetlands in the state.


Armed with the Delaware Wetlands Conservation Strategy, scientists and volunteers across the state have increased efforts to slow wetland loss and help keep wetlands productive and healthy. The strategy, introduced in Oct. 2008, is being used to guide and coordinate efforts and maximize resources to best protect all wetlands in the state.

“The Delaware Wetlands Conservation Strategy was instrumental in helping to secure a $300,000 federal wetlands grant,” said Rebecca Rothweiler, wetland outreach specialist with the Division of Water Resources. “The grant is being used to help identify our most vulnerable wetlands and the causes of wetland loss. With this knowledge, we can effectively coordinate resources and engage scientists and volunteers in efforts to restore and protect wetlands and the valuable functions they provide to all Delawareans.”

Since colonial days, approximately 50 percent of the state’s wetlands have disappeared, primarily due to human activities – development and agriculture. When wetlands are destroyed or degraded, their complex and vitally important functions are lost or reduced. Wetlands help purify and replenish groundwater, mitigate the impacts of floods, and buffer waves and other storm effects. They help reduce erosion, improve water quality and act as “sponges” to trap and retain excess nutrients and sediment before water reaches ground and surface water sources.

As a result of the strategy, wetland maps are being updated to identify areas of loss and the state’s most vulnerable wetland habitats. In addition, wetland scientists have completed extensive assessment work of the Inland Bays wetlands and have established long-term wetland monitoring stations to collect data on factors that could contribute to wetland loss, including Sudden Wetland Dieback, the rapid death of some saltmarsh vegetation first observed in the Inland Bays in 2006. Fieldwork on the St. Jones wetlands in Kent County has also been completed, using the Mid-Atlantic Tidal Rapid Assessment Method, an effective way to measure the health and negative impacts to wetlands, such as ditching, invasive species and development activities. In addition, a multi-disciplinary team of government and conservation organizations has developed a restoration plan for the Nanticoke River watershed that incorporates the best available science to improve water quality, restore degraded wildlife habitat, and maintain wetland functions.

“Through the Delaware Wetlands Conservation Strategy, we are working to bolster support and protection of wetlands that are not covered by state and federal regulations,” said Steve Williams, environmental program manager with DNREC’s Division of Soil and Water Conservation. “We are coordinating efforts with our conservation partners to integrate programs that will ultimately make a difference in preserving wetlands throughout the state.”

Wetlands provide many habitat functions – as breeding grounds, nesting sites and other critical habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife species, as well as unique habitat for endangered or threatened plants and animals, including the bog turtle, the black-crowned night heron, the American black duck, and 57 percent of Delaware’s native plants. Delaware’s wetlands provide wintering and migratory habitat for many species of songbirds, waterfowl and raptors. The Delaware Bay Estuary was designated as wetland of international significance in 1992, because the wetlands associated with the estuary provide critical resting and feeding areas for migratory shore and wading birds, including the Red Knot.

According to Gary Kreamer, education administrator with DNREC’s Aquatic Resource Education Center, wetland scientists have initiated new schoolyard restoration projects and provided resources and training for teachers. “Wetlands are being used as outdoor classrooms for students to learn first-hand the value and functions of wetlands, said Kreamer. “In addition, through DNREC’s Adopt-a-Wetland program, more than 100 Delaware groups are now “wetland adopters” and have access to a wealth of resources for monitoring and stewarding the wetlands in their care.”

Development of the Delaware Wetlands Conservation Strategy was funded through a Wetland Demonstration Grant awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The strategy was developed as a partnership effort among scientists from DNREC’s Division of Water Resources, Fish and Wildlife, Soil and Water Conservation, Air and Waste Management and the Office of the Secretary in cooperation with the Delaware Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, federal agencies, and conservation partners.

For more information on the Delaware Wetlands Conservation Strategy, visit http://www.dnrec.delaware.gov/Admin/DelawareWetlands.