Here is the winning essay.
by Anna Brodmerkel
Too often, we humans take nature’s phenomenon, the wetland, for granted. Humans forget wetlands are a defining characteristic of regions, and abuse them and are ignorant of their importance to the surrounding environment. Wetlands provide southeast North Carolina with a plethora of benefits unique to each region. The impending destruction of wetlands would be a travesty not only for humans, but the organisms whose lives depend upon the irreplaceable habitat as well.
The EPA defines a wetland as “areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season” (What). The 1989 Federal Manual for Identifying and Delineating Jurisdictional Wetlands further states the criteria for a wetland by three conditions: hydrophytic vegetation, hydric soils, and wetland hydrology (Lilly). Hydrophytic vegetation dictates that the majority of plants must prefer wet soil. Hydric soils are “wet and anaerobic for one week or more during the growing season” (Lilly). Wetland Hydrology contains water depth from the surface to the water table and the amount of time the water remains at that level (Lilly).
Wetlands are present on all continents excluding Antarctica and are broken into two categories, tidal or non-tidal. Tidal wetlands are located along the Alaskan, Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts where estuaries connect the two. Coastal areas provide muddy, less vegetated wetlands due to the difficulty of plants to adapt to the water salinity. Mangrove swamps, located in tropical climates, are categorized as tidal wetlands because the trees and shrubs grow well in the salty waters. Salt marshes are also a form of tidal wetlands, and they serve as a boundary between fresh and salt-water areas. Non-tidal wetlands are a vegetated, freshwater system and located on floodplains near rivers and streams, dry land, lakes and ponds, or low-lying areas. Non-tidal wetlands include riparian, playas, basins, bogs, and marshes (What).
Although wetlands are classified in many types, each contribute valuable environmental benefits. Wetlands improve water quality by acting as filters and removing excess nutrients. Plants and other vegetation absorb the nutrients that could be potentially harmful for human consumption (Economic). Wetlands filter stormwater runoff that contains harmful toxins, which will contaminate drinking water (Wetlands). Additionally, they filter nonpoint and point pollution from various sources. While wetlands can filter out pollution, they should not be abused, and USEPA condemns the act as “inappropriate” (Wetland). Furthermore, wetlands increase biodiversity. “Mammals, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and fish rely on wetlands for food, habitat or shelter,” and add to the variety of wildlife in the area (Economic). Crucial to health and biodiversity, wetlands prove to be an asset.
In addition to environmental prosperity, wetlands yield economic prosperity as well. Wetlands serve as a form of natural flood control, soaking up and storing excess water. More importantly, wetlands function as a barrier against hurricanes, which are potentially devastating in North Carolina (Economic). Pocosin wetlands, common in North Carolina, “store enormous amounts of water and slow runoff of freshwater into brackish estuaries” (Wetlands). After the storm passes, wetlands will free the stored water (Wetlands). Tropical storms and hurricanes possess the power to destroy a community and flood coastal areas. Flood control such as levies and sand bags can become extremely expensive, not to mention the cleanup after the storm has passed. With the help of wetlands, the cost of protection is dramatically lessened.
Moreover, wetlands contain a substantial amount of revenue in commercial fishing for North Carolina. Salt marshes harbor fish, shellfish, blue crabs, and shrimp that commercial fisheries sell for profit, stimulating the local economy (Wetlands). According to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Wetlands provide an essential link in the life cycle of 75 percent of the fish and shellfish commercially harvested in the U.S.” (Economics). Commercial fishing exhibits how humans rely on wetlands as a source of revenue for fishermen, fish trader, restaurants, and many other businesses.
No matter how blatant the economic and environmental benefits of wetlands prove, Titan Cement battles to destroy them. Titan Cement plans to demolish about 500 acres of wetland territory in the Castle Hayne area, along the Cape Fear River (Sierra). The Cape Fear River runs by the Holly Shelter game land, where a prominent wetland lies (North). The wetland will no longer be able to protect the Castle Hayne area and more flooding would occur due to the loss of a natural barrier. This flooding could possibly lead to the rapid spread of more runoff pollution in the area, which would have to be disposed of because the toxic runoff into the river and further contamination.
The water contamination will directly affect the commercial fishing in the area. The harmful toxins such as mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and dioxins will create a wretched habitat for the fish, eventually causing them to be contaminated. The Northeast Cape Fear River currently contains certain fish with consumption limits. After more pollutants are introduced to the wetland more fish will have consumption limits (North). The introduction of mercury in the river would deter future customers from buying fish for fear of effects on pregnant women, causing damaged reputation of fish distributers (Sierra). A draft letter from N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers explained that “The toxic emissions from this facility could pose substantial risk to the critical fisheries of (the Northeast) Cape Fear system by polluting the air, wetlands and waters that are critical to healthy fish stocks” (North). It is clear that Titan Cement would cause harm to commercial fishing and its distributers, and inevitably to human and aquatic health.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission designated the Cape Fear River as a Primary Nursery Area where many fish spawn. The pollution of this area would cause seven of the nine diadromous fish (American eel, American shad, Atlantic sturgeon, blueback herring, hickory shad, shortnose sturgeon, and striped bass) to become threatened (North). There are over seventy endangered species that depend on the wetlands in North Carolina to survive (Wetlands). Animals in the wetlands demand a clean, safe environment to be able to live. Titan Cement will inexplicably ruin the surrounding wetlands and leave devastation in its wake.
Critical to the environment and economy, wetlands must be protected at all costs from dangers such as Titan Cement. Wetlands provide biodiversity and an unmatched natural filtering system, while increasing local revenue by acting as a flood barrier and allowing a great source of commercial fishing. Titan Cement will harm threatened and endangered animals through unwanted pollution. Furthering endangering the wetland could be prevented by not allowing Titan Cement to come to Castle Hayne. Community members have the power to fight against this environmental injustice, and are working to protect one of nature’s disappearing wonders.
“Economic Benefits of Wetlands.” Economic Benefits of Wetlands. EPA, n.d. Web. 28 Feb.2013. <http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/outreach/upload/EconomicBenefits.pdf>.
Lilly, J. Paul. “Wetland Issues.” Wetland Issues. North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. <http://www.soil.ncsu.edu/publications/Soilfacts/AG-439-26/>.
“North Carolina Wildlife Federation.” North Carolina Wildlife Federation. North Carolina Wildlife Federation, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. <http://www.ncwf.org/priorities/index.php>.
“Sierra Club – North Carolina Chapter.” Stop Titan Cement. Sierra Club: North Carolina Chapter, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. <http://nc2.sierraclub.org/issue/stop-titan- cement>.
“The Issues.” STAN Stop Titan Action Network. STAN Stop Titan Action Network, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. <http://stoptitan.org/the-fight/issues.asp>.
“Wetland Management.” Wetland Management. NCSU Water Quality Group, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. <http://www.water.ncsu.edu/watershedss/info/wetlands/manage.html>.
“Wetlands:: Their Functions and Values in Coastal North Carolina.” Division of Coastal Management. North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, 2 Nov. 2007. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. <http://dcm2.enr.state.nc.us/wetlands/brochure.htm>.
“What Are Wetlands?” EPA. EPA, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. <http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/what.cfm>.
Cape Fear River Watch offered a college scholarship essay contest for all North Carolina high school seniors in public, private, cyber and home schools. Students must reside in North Carolina to be eligible.
Cape Fear River Watch established this scholarship contest to promote interest in environmental conservation, with particular regard to heavy industry and related subjects. This contest was created to engage students pursuing college majors in environmental sciences, biology, and wildlife and habitat conservation, as well as to give financial aid for tuition for the college-bound student.
The first place prize of $1,000 is for use toward eligible higher education costs.