To many people, they're still bogs, swamps, and marshes, inhospitable places that might as well be paved
into parking lots. That ooze, though, is the source of life: wetlands nurse juvenile fish and shellfish,
provide habitat for threatened and endangered species, absorb floodwaters like sponges, and filter
pollutants from drinking-water supplies. And beyond their plumbing prowess, wetlands' sheer
otherworldliness can teach us something. "Each visit to the swamp is different, and every visit better, for
the eye has sharpened," writes Peter Matthiessen. "As the harmonies fall into place, the mysteries deepen,
and intimations of so much that is not known restore the heart."
The message, however, has had a hard time sinking in. Less than half of the wetlands that once existed in
the contiguous United States remain today, and nearly 300,000 acres are bulldozed each year.
Conservatives in Congress have been squawking at wetlands protections like a flock of geese; saving
swamps, they claim, is proof that government has gone awry. Last year the House of Representatives
passed amendments to the Clean Water Act that would effectively remove protections for two-thirds of
U.S. wetlands. President Clinton promised to veto the measure. But like the hard-to-kill Swamp Thing of
sci-fi movies, another bill, this one dealing strictly with wetlands, recently emerged on the Senate floor
that would have equally destructive results.
What will it take for people to see the worth of wetlands? Information is a good place to start. In the
following pages, Sierra plumbs the depths of wetland
ecosystems , meets two Chesapeake Bay -region residents who
have turned basic knowledge into passion and activism, and takes a waist-deep journey through the Florida Everglades . Join us, but be prepared to get your feet wet.