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Patterns in coastal wetland loss in the northern Gulf of Mexico were examined using aerial imagery from 1955–56 and 1978. Five qualitative types of wetland changes are evident: (1) spoil bank-parallel pond formation, (2) pond formation with apparent random distribution for the smallest ponds, but very clumped distribution for larger ponds, (3) semi- or complete impoundment resulting in open water formation, (4) cutting off of stream channels upstream of where a spoil bank crosses a natural channel, and (5) erosion at the land-water interface. Only pondsinterval, and it is clear that wetland breakup, not erosion at the pond-lake edge, is the dominant form of wetland-to-open water conversion. Canals and their spoil banks are spatially related to wetland-to-water conversion which is evident up to 2 km away from those man-made features. The indirect impacts of canals and spoil banks vary regionally, for example, with sediment compaction rates that increase with increasing sediment deposition. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that canals and spoil banks are a major factor driving wetland loss rates because they change wetland hydrology.

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