Wetlands Science: Academic Requirements, Professional Outlook
Forty years ago, almost everyone thought the only good swamp was a filled-in swamp. Today, people have come together to preserve wetland areas, recognizing the many benefits they provide. Simply put, "wetlands" are areas of land saturated with water for most of the year. They have specific soil, water, and plant types. Wetlands are found in all types of environments and on every continent except Antarctica.
Wetlands Science is the field that looks at how wetlands are formed, how they work, and how to protect them (or even make new ones!). The field is constantly changing, as our understanding of wetland habitats expands. Professionals in the field have a sound basis in science, policy and communications but also have the capacity to change with the field, to be flexible and to work with others.
The Academic Requirements
Students will gain scientific understanding of wetlands, watersheds and their surrounding environments. They will learn about the many crucial functions of wetlands, which include:
- Providing habitat for many plants and animals, including birds and fish
- Flood prevention and shoreline protection
- Contributing to water quality
- Economic benefits, from activities such as recreation, fishing, and the harvesting of shellfish
- Recreation and aesthetics.
Wetlands are under constant threat from development, pollution and sprawl. Students will learn about the measures that are being taken to protect these areas - measures which include legislation and proactive education efforts.
Students will spend time in labs, learning how to analyze wetlands samples and to identify the species found there. Look for a program that involves a good deal of field work, as this is a great way to prepare for a career or graduate school.
Here are some courses that we've seen:
- Wildlife Science
- Fisheries Management
- Conservation Biology
- Coastal Resources Management
- Stream Ecology
- Environmental Planning
- Marsh Ecology
- Resource Economics
- Soil Science
- Fundamentals of Remote Sensing
- Water Resources Law
- Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
There are many different jobs in Wetlands Science. Some scientists and surveyors help to delineate wetlands so that conservation efforts can be successful. Others restore, create and enhance wetlands. Scientists and technicians are needed to conduct surveys and assessments of wetland function and health to see if conservation efforts are working and where they need to be improved. Managers in the field oversee these many areas, and planners help design wetlands and work with conservation managers to integrate wetlands plans into the surrounding watershed and environment.
A good deal of Wetlands Science involves pulling on waders and trudging through pungent mud in search of samples and species. Scientists also compile reports based on their findings and present them in journals and at conferences.
Planners and managers may work mostly in offices and will spend time traveling to a site to survey it.
Professionals in Wetlands Science may have irregular hours, depending on what type of project they're working on. For instance, you may have to get up really early for several spring days to observe migratory birds coming into your area. Professionals in the field need to have a sound scientific understanding of wetlands, watersheds, and the environments, people and plants and animals in them. This understanding, along with good communication skills and a passion for conservation, will allow them to work in many different areas of Wetlands Science.
Many of the jobs are in the non-profit and government arenas, but there are some jobs in private businesses. For instance, these groups need knowledgeable lawyers, developers and planners. Educators in Wetlands Science introduce a new generation to the importance of our wetlands. Scientists for businesses and developers help them to comply with environmental regulations.
Here are some of the job titles we've seen, all of which require experience or education in Wetlands Science.
- Water Resources Engineer (KCI Technologies Inc.)
- Wetland Scientist Manager (Manhard Consulting Ltd.)
- Environmental Planning Project Manager (Science Applications International Corp.)
- Stream Ecologist (Ecological Solutions Inc.)
- Assistant Biologist (Catena Group Inc.)
- Environmental Scientist (Wetlands Tetra Tech FW Inc.)
- Soil Scientist (Catena Group Inc.)
- Wetlands Specialist (County of DuPage)
- Assistant Professor of Soil Ecology (University of Toledo)
- Stream Restoration Scientist/Engineer (Williams Creek Consulting)
- Water Quality Program Manager (Dept. of Natural Resources, Pueblo of Santa Ana, NM)
- Associate Professor of Aquatic Ecology (Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University)
- Environmental/Wetland Scientists (Langan Engineering and Environmental Sciences Inc.)
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Conservation Scientists and Foresters
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Environmental Scientists and Geoscientists
- Duke University Wetland Center
- East Carolina University, Coastal Resources Management Ph.D. program
- Louisiana State University, School of Renewable Natural Resources
- Old Dominion University, Chesapeake Bay Program
- ODU, MS in Biology, Concentration in Wetlands Science
- State University of New York (SUNY), College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Graduate Program in Environmental Studies - Concentration in Water and Wetland Resource Studies
- Society of Wetlands Scientists
- SWS Jobs page
- U.S. EPA - Wetlands page
- Wetlands Science Institute; USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)