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"Past Restored?" -- The Discovery Files

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Wetland restoration is a billion-dollar-a-year industry in the United States that aims to create ecosystems similar to those that disappeared over the past century. But a new analysis of restoration projects shows that restored wetlands seldom reach the quality of a natural wetland.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Carbon Blueprint.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: wetlands) America's wetlands--ecological treasure troves of biodiversity. Keys to carbon storage, water purification, erosion control and fish production. During the last century, over half the wetlands in North America, Europe, China and Australia have disappeared at the hands of humans. A study out of UC-Berkeley shows that often the only way to restore wetlands to their original quality is not to destroy them in the first place.

But what about the long-established practice of "wetland restoration?" You know, destroy a natural wetland area through land development, and build a new man-made wetland to take its place. Sounds like a fair trade-off. But the authors of this study show that there may be some serious flaws in that logic.

They say a restored wetland may look natural, but it can take hundreds of years before it accumulates the plant varieties and carbon resources of the original it was meant to replace. On average, a restored wetland is 25 percent less productive than a natural one and in colder climes, as much as 50 percent less even after more than 50 years.

(Sound effect: wetlands) The theory that we can create wetland ecosystems as effectively as nature--may be "all wet."

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