There are over 5,500 acres of tidal wetlands in the City of Suffolk. Tidal wetlands serve as spawning and nursery grounds for a variety of marine life that are an essential element of the marine economy of the Chesapeake Bay. In addition to their habitat value, wetlands also assist in flood control, weakening storm surge, improving water quality, reducing erosion, and providing important food sources for marine and inland wildlife.
Wetlands are the area where land meets water. These lands provide many ecosystem benefits by soaking up and slowing stormwater, providing habitat for aquatic and land animals, and trapping excessive nutrients such as Phosphorous from degrading the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Wetlands also play an important role for recreational and commercial fishing, hunting, and aquaculture across Virginia. Wetlands boards across the Tidewater region are tasked to preserve and prevent the despoliation, and destruction, of wetlands within their jurisdiction while accommodating necessary economic development in a manner consistent with wetlands preservation.
Wetlands can be tidal, such as the salt marshes along the Nansemond River, and are waters affected daily by tidal changes. The varying salinity of tidal wetlands means only the most adaptive plants survive, which is why many wetlands are, or have, mud or sand flats. Suffolk also has non-tidal wetlands composed of fresh water, either seasonally or perpetually wet, such as Chapel Swamp in the Village of Holland.
Additionally, wetlands can be vegetated or non-vegetated. Under Chapter 13 of Title 28.2 of the State Code, vegetative wetlands are those which are between Mean Low Water (MLW) and an elevation above MLW equal to 1.5 times the mean tide range, generally to the beginning of the upland buffer, and have any of the listed wetland plant species outlined in the Virginia Wetlands Act. Non-vegetated wetlands are between MLW and Mean High Water (MHW) but without vegetation, such as mudflats or sand beaches.