wetland restoration

Wetland Restoration: Definition, Principles, And More

Wetlands are water-saturated land areas that support terrestrial and aquatic species. Examples of wetlands are forested wetlands and coastal and tidal wetlands. Like other natural bodies, they are prone to damage and extinction, thus requiring rigorous wetland restoration. 

Read on to learn more about principles, benefits, and examples of successful wetland restoration projects, 

Related Read: Wetlands and Climate Change, World Wetlands Day.

What is wetland restoration? 

skagit valley wetland
Photo by Bryan Hanson on Unsplash.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, wetland restoration refers to manipulating a degraded wetland’s physical, biological, and chemical characteristics to its natural state. 

Restoration is the return of an ecosystem to a close approximation of the state it existed before disturbance and destruction. Various activities like creation, reallocation, and enhancement characterize wetland restoration. There are many processes used to restore wetlands. 

Wetland restoration efforts aim to copy natural, self-regulating ecosystem services integrated into the landscape in which it occurs. Restoring wetlands involves chemical adjustment of the soil and water, biological manipulation, and reintroducing native plant communities and animals.   

Restoring wetlands could be the creation of a wetland in an area where wetlands haven't existed for the past century. It happens through human activities like excavating upland soils to an elevation supporting the growth of wildlife species through appropriate wetland hydrology. Restoration can also enhance wetlands by modifying specific structural features of an existing wetland to increase its functions.

Principles Of Wetland Habitat Restoration

The Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds developed a list of principles to promote the success of wetland restoration projects. They apply to all stages of wetland conservation, from initiation to post-implementation.   

The principles focus on scientific and technical issues and some environmental management aspects. Here are ten principles: 

1. Preserve and protect aquatic resources. 

Photo by Jeffrey Eisen on Pexels.

Wetland restoration combined with preservation and protection ensures the overall improvement of the ecosystem. Existing and intact wetlands are crucial to recovering damaged wetlands because they contain biodiversity and can provide biota and other natural materials needed for restoring wetlands. Restoration should not replace the need to preserve existing wetlands.

2. Restore functional and ecological integrity.

Ecological integrity refers to the structure, composition, and natural processes of biotic communities and the physical environment of an ecosystem. Wetland restoration should aim for immense progress toward ecological integrity by using designs that accommodate processes and communities that preserve native wetland systems.

Ecosystems with ecological integrity have a self-sustaining natural system that can withstand change and stress. Ecosystem processes like nutrient cycles, water levels, and flow patterns function correctly. Also, their physical features are dynamically stable.

3. Restore natural function and structure. 

egret on wetland
Photo by Rachel C on Unsplash.

Structure and function work hand in hand in wetlands, rivers, and other aquatic bodies. A crucial wetland restoration principle is reestablishing the correct natural structure to restore wetland functions. 

Changes in the channel form, stream channelization, shoreline modification, and disconnection from adjacent ecosystems damage wetlands. It is essential to save the site’s physical attributes to gain wetland functionality.  

For instance, fixing the bottom elevation in a wetland is crucial to getting hydrological regimes, nutrient fluxes, and natural disturbance cycles. Repairing the structures will also improve water quality and restore native biota. It is necessary to identify missing functions and focus on reinstating them.

4. Restore native species and avoid non-native species.

Invasive species threaten native ecosystems, exploiting disturbances to outperform local species. They can jeopardize restoration efforts and spread further. Such species should be excluded from restoration projects, and precautionary measures should be taken to prevent unintentional introduction.

5. Understand the natural potential of the watershed and work within the watershed and broader landscape context. 

wetland under the blue sky
Photo by Olivier Aznavour on Pexels.

For individuals, organizations, and local government bodies to create wetland restoration goals, they need to learn about the historical range of conditions that existed on a wetland site before degradation. The knowledge will help them determine possible future problems and the right goals to set for the restoration project.

Restoration plans should include a restoration design based on the entire watershed. Not the area with the most damage. It is crucial because activities throughout the watershed might have terrible effects on the aquatic area. A localized approach might not change the activities in the entire watershed, but they can design it to accommodate the effects adequately.

6. Address the current causes of degradation. 

wetland under the white sky
Photo by Nick Nicholson on Unsplash.

Wetland restoration projects will fail if the causes of degradation are still present. It is best to identify and address the ongoing causes to make progress. In most cases, degradation occurs because of a series of indirect impacts. It is vital to look at upstream and up-slope activities and downstream modifications to identify the causes of degradation.

7. Develop clear and achievable goals. 

Wetland restoration can’t succeed without clear and measurable goals. Goals direct implementation and provide the standards for measuring success. Use a simple conceptual model to define the problems, identify the required solutions, and develop strategies and goals. 

The goals should be ecologically achievable. Also, all members working on the project should understand the goals clearly to avoid misunderstandings and mistakes.

8. Focus on feasibility. 

At the planning stage, it is crucial to focus on the practicality of the restoration activity. Consider the scientific, ecological, financial, and social aspects to see if a project is feasible. For instance, a wetland restoration project can’t succeed if the natural hydrology existing before degradation can’t be reestablished.

9. Design for self-sustainability 

sunset on wetland
Photo by Clint McKoy on Unsplash.

The best way to prevent future degradation of a restored wetland is to reduce the need for continuous maintenance. Continuous maintenance could be a supply of artificial water sources or vegetation management. 

High maintenance restoration results incur high costs, and its long-term success is dependent on human and financial resources. A design for self-sustainability promotes ecological integrity and wetland functions.

10. Involve the skills and insights of a multidisciplinary team. 

Wetland restoration can be a complex endeavor with a wide array of disciplines like ecology, aquatic biology, engineering, hydrology and hydraulics, communications, and social science. A wetland restoration project can only be successful with a skilled, diverse, and knowledgeable team. Strong and effective leadership is also necessary to maintain a functional team.  

Benefits of Wildlife Habitat Restoration Projects 

coastal restoration
Photo by Tulane Public Relations on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

There are many benefits of wetlands restoration. They are: 

  1. Wetlands provide critical habitat, breeding grounds, and food for fish, shellfish, birds, amphibian populations, and other animals. Research shows that wetlands house 75% of the fish and shellfish harvested commercially in the United States2.
  2. Restored wetlands also provide homes for threatened and endangered species. About 20% of the United States’s endangered species inhabit wetlands throughout their lifecycle1.
  3. Wetland restoration is crucial to the survival of migratory birds because it serves as feeding and resting grounds. Restoring wetlands also serves as wildlife habitat for many species.  
  4. One of the many beneficial functions of wetlands is their flood storage capacity. Wetlands can soak up and store up to 3 acre-feet of water.
  5. Wetlands improve water quality by intercepting runoff water before it reaches open water sources. It also facilitates the removal of pollutants through physical, chemical, and biological processes. 

Examples of wetland restoration projects  

Let's discuss two wetland conservation projects conducted in the United States. 

Coastal Wetland Restoration on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park

In 2004, WRD set restoration goals to enhance the wetland coastal areas. The goals included reestablishing habitat for migratory waterfowl and resident wildlife, protecting the archeological site, and improving the visitor experience. 

They excavated 10,000 cubic yards of fill to restore the coastal wetlands and reconnect the stream to its floodplain. By November 2011, they completed earthmoving and erosion control work according to design specifications. They also installed 15,000 native wetland plants to complete the restoration in the following months.

Glorieta Creek Wetland-Riparian Restoration at Pecos National Historical Park

They received technical assistance and funding from 1998 to 2000 to create a more stable, functional riparian-wetland ecosystem. The crews planted over 1000 willows, cottonwoods, and nearly 10,000 native sedges, rushes, bulrushes, and other vegetation on the site.

The wetland is now performing natural and beneficial functions, including maintenance of natural stream channels, floodplain and wetland habitats, water quality improvement, sediment retention, and flood storage.

What is Voluntary Wetland Restoration? 

volunteering for wetland restoration
Photo by USDA NRCS Texas on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Voluntary wetland restoration refers to collaborations between non-profit organizations, local governments, and industry to work on nature conservancy. It doesn't require statutes or regulations. Additionally, these protection efforts help restore wetland vegetation and plant species, reduce the risk of climate change, and protect wetland wildlife on a broader basis.


Overall, the importance of wetland restoration is tremendous. It mitigates climate change and protects many species. There are a lot of factors that contribute to the destruction of wetland plant species, topography, and other organisms. However, we should strive for threat removal and the prevention of a decline in wetland conditions.

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