University of Florida

Coastal Wetlands

This unique ecosystem is more than just something you pass on your way to the beach. Coastal wetlands are vital resources that help to sustain Florida's environment and wildlife.

Coastal wetlands in Florida include salt marshes and mangrove swamps. These habitats are generally very productive, and both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems rely on coastal wetland habitat.

Coastal wetlands serve several important functions:

  • Act as nursery, feeding, and refuge areas for aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.
  • Improve water quality by removing excess nutrients and pollutants.
  • Provide habitat for fish, birds, and invertebrates such as crabs and shrimp.
  • Protect coasts from erosion.

Plant Life

Depending on where you are in Florida, look for the following plants in coastal wetlands:

  • Black rush (Juncus roemerianus)
  • Glasswort (Salicornia sp.)
  • Smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora)
  • Saltwort (Batis maritima)
  • Mangroves


Mangroves are tropical trees that grow in coastal areas. Mangroves have adaptations that help them grow in coastal areas, including specialized  roots that can "breathe," the ability to filter out salt, and and seeds that germinate while they're still on the parent plant.

There are three species of true mangrove found in Florida: the red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), black mangrove (Avicennia germinans), and white mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa).

Red mangroves have the characteristic prop roots that many people associate with mangroves. They are found along the shore. Black and white mangroves grow in more upland areas of coastal wetlands.


Wetlands attract both aquatic and terrestrial animals, including many threatened and endangered species. These endangered species include the following:

  • American alligator
  • American crocodile
  • Atlantic salt marsh snake
  • Bald eagle
  • Brown pelican
  • Eastern indigo snake
  • Hawksbill, ridley, loggerhead, and green sea turtles
  • Florida manatee
  • Florida panther
  • Key deer
  • Peregrine falcon

Threats to Wetlands

Human activity has a large impact on coastal wetlands. Conversion to agricultural or urban spaces, impounding for mosquito control, and clearing for fish or shellfish aquaculture all contribute to the depletion of wetland areas.

Damage to and loss of coastal wetlands can also be caused by pollution--including oil spills, pesticide and herbicide runoff, industrial chemicals, and human waste.

Natural events such as hurricanes impact coastal wetlands by causing over flooding and burying plants in sand and silt.

Consider visiting your local coast to get a firsthand view of these important environments. Contact your local Extension office or Florida state park for information on plant and wildlife identification and coastal wetlands in general.

Adapted and excerpted from:

J. Rey and C. Rutledge, Coastal Wetlands of the Indian River Lagoon (ENY653), Entomology and Nematology Department (rev. 12/2011).

J. Rey and C. Rutledge, Mangroves (ENY660), Entomology and Nematology Department (rev. 01/2009).