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The Fragile Fringe - Introduction


Introduction to the Fragile Fringe Teaching Guide

Wetlands are found throughout the United States and the world. Wetlands are transitional areas sandwiched between the inland and aquatic habitats. Indicative of the name, wetlands are land areas that tend to be wet or are regularly flooded and have a water table that is at or above the surface for at least part of the year. The names for these wetlands vary based on the geographical location; they may be identified as wet meadows, bogs, prairie potholes, bottomland hardwood forests, or freshwater marshes. Swamps are usually referred to as inland wetlands or lagoons, saltwater marshes, freshwater marshes, brackish and intermediate marshes, or mangrove swamps which are normally referred to as coastal wetlands.

In any wetland, the relationships between the plants and animals are very important. More attention is usually given to the animals in a wetland, but the role of the plants is a vital one. Naturally, the plants are a fundamental link in the food webs of a wetland; but they are also critical as shelter for young organisms, for structural stabilization, and for water retention in the system. Students should always be keenly aware of the connection between the plants and animals in a wetland since human activities which impact either plants or animals will inevitably affect the entire ecosystem.

Activities initiated by humans should not be the only concern of those interested in protecting and conserving the wetlands. Students should also consider the forces of nature and their effects on the wetlands. Hurricanes and flooding in recent years have shown just how fragile the coastal wetlands along the Gulf of Mexico are. Coastal wetlands and barrier islands, with their associated wetlands, serve to protect the inland areas by acting as buffers for major storms and hurricanes. Levees protect areas inhabited by humans in times of major flooding but at a high cost to the natural maintenance of the wetlands. Humans of all ages, in accepting the protection offered by wetlands, must also accept the responsibility of protecting the protector if this relationship is to continue.


Introductory Note

The intent of this material is to provide a basis from which a comprehensive study of coastal wetlands can be developed by the teacher on the basis of individual needs. Each teacher has students with varying needs and must, therefore, plan accordingly. The information and activities are provided as a framework and may be used and revised to accommodate different levels of students. Some activities may be used as demonstrations rather than student activities for younger students. Any grade level designation is only a suggestion; if it works for your students, use it. This guide was prepared for the Gulf of Mexico Program by the National Biological Service, Southern Science Center (now U.S. Geological Survey National Wetlands Research Center), Lafayette, Louisiana, in 1995.

For more information about wetlands, please explore the NWRC Web site at For more information about this teachers' guide, contact Mary Anne Townson at


Background Information:

Listed below are several sources of basic background information:

Chabreck, R. H., and R. E. Condrey. 1979. Common vascular plants of the Louisiana marsh. Louisiana State University Center for Wetland Resources, Baton Rouge, LA. (Sea Grant Pub. # LSU-T-79-003)


Louisiana State Department of Education. Lafourche Parish Coastal Zone Curriculum Resource Unit: Bulletin 1834.


Weber, M., R. T. Townsend, and R. Bierce. 1992. Environmental quality in the Gulf of Mexico: a citizen's guide. Center for Marine Conservation, Washington, DC.