5 reasons to love Canadian wetlands

5 reasons to love Canadian wetlands

5 reasons to love Canadian wetlands

By Emily Jerome, Digital Engagement Assistant, National Environmental Treasure

Wetlands are often perceived as wastelands. But, they are crucial ecosystems in Canada for biodiversity and humans alike.

Wetlands are often thought of as stagnant, stinky water on the sides of highways and farmers fields. While we admit wetlands are often pungent with decomposing organic matter, they are far from being wastelands. In fact, wetlands are one of Earth’s more productive ecosystems, supporting an incredible amount of biodiversity, and considered a nature-based solution to climate change. But, wetlands have had their fair share of challenges, having lost over a third of wetlands globally in 45 years. Here in Canada, wetlands including marshes, swamps, fens and bogs make up 14% of our landmass.

So for World Wetlands Day, we want to share 5 reasons to love this 14% and how you can help protect Canada’s wetlands.

1. Canada’s wetlands are home to a wonderful diversity of species

In the spring, wetlands are brimming with waterfowl, blackbirds and shorebirds as they nest and raise their young in the safety of reeds, grasses and stones. Not only is it a sanctuary for migratory and year-round birds, there are also fish species, frogs, turtles, muskrats, minks and beavers that are long-term residents. With deer mice and ground squirrels living in the grasses adjacent to wetlands and fish swimming in open water, this ecosystem is a favourite of osprey, eagles and hawks. Now, let’s not forget about the itty bitty creatures that wiggle in wetland waters. Aquatic invertebrates, such as dragonfly nymphs and snails form the base of the wetland food chain and are equally as fascinating as other wetland life.

Frog on log in wetland
Rejean Bedard from Getty Images/Canva

2. Wetlands are the kidneys of the planet

With the theme, “Wetlands and Water,” for this year’s World Wetland Day, let’s chat about how wetlands are the kidneys of the planet. Wetlands have the wonderful ability to remove pollutants from water, thanks to their luscious vegetation. Cattails, for example, aren’t just good for entertainment with seedy fluff that explodes in the wind. These iconic wetland plants are able to capture excess phosphorus and nitrogen, thereby preventing harmful algal blooms.

Even more amazingly, wetlands are able to get rid of 90% of water-borne pathogens. For us, this is crucial as wetlands recharge groundwater, which 26% of Canadians rely on for drinking water. Wetlands are now being constructed as natural infrastructure to clean stormwater. Canada’s largest constructed stormwater treatment wetland is located in Calgary, Alberta and is the size of approximately 150 football fields.

Cattail seeds in wetland
Jenjen43 from Getty Images/Canva

3. Wetlands are masters at carbon sequestration

This process sucks in carbon and stores it in wetland soil. Unlike when a sibling hogs all the crayons, we are happy that wetlands hog carbons because it helps to regulate the climate. But, not all wetlands are equally skilled at holding onto carbon. Peatlands, including fens and bogs, collect ‘peat’ or partially decomposed plants and other organic matter (aka a wack tonne of carbon). When peatlands are drained for agriculture, forestry or peat harvesting, carbon and nitrogen are released as greenhouse gases in the form of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. Approximately 25% of the world’s peatand are in Canada alone, with the Hudson Bay Lowlands as one of the worlds largest peatland systems.

Fall colours wetland in forest
ZargonDesign from Getty Images/Canva

4. Wetlands act like giant sponges

Another wetland superpower is their ability to act like a giant sponge. When the clouds open up and rain pours down, wetlands are able to absorb excess water. This means that wetlands act as a buffer against flooding. Now imagine the reverse situation. It’s dry and the land is parched, wetlands are able to release water back into the environment. In addition to their spongy talents, wetlands act as a protective barrier from storm surges along coastlines. So much so that the mouth of Riviere du Nord in northern New Brunswick is being converted back to its natural state as a salt marsh. This re-wilding strategy will reduce coastal erosion due to rising sea levels while providing valuable habitat to the endangered butterfly species, the maritime ringlet.

Maritime ringlet butterfly on grass
Maritime ringlet. ColinDJones (CC BY-NC)

5. Wetlands facilitate many recreational activities for Canadians

If we protect wetlands, it means that we get to enjoy all they have to offer! In the summer, they provide endless entertainment for recreational birders, photographers and casual park users with parades of waterfowl chicks and spats between Canadian geese. The water and wildlife can be explored by gliding through the wetland in canoes and kayaks. Wetlands welcome family activities like pond-dipping to explore and learn about all the little creatures living in the marsh. In the winter, the frozen waters of wetlands can provide a surface for skating while the snow covered grasses surrounding wetlands provide the perfect opportunity to snowshoe and cross-country ski.

Point Pelee National Park walkway over wetland
Point Pelee National Park, Ontario. Mysticenergy from Getty Images/Canva.

How can you support wetlands in Canada?

1. Follow any site specific regulations while recreating in wetlands. If you are visiting a Migratory Bird Sanctuary, keep in mind that there are many regulations in place to protect wildlife including no hunting or disturbing of nesting sites. 

2. If you live in Saskatchewan, the Great Lake Region, Québec or the Maritimes and want to help survey biodiversity in wetlands, visit Birds Canada

3. Volunteer with organizations that support wetland restoration and conservation such as Ducks Unlimited Canada.

4. Break the stinky stigma that wetlands are wastelands by sharing this blog with family and friends.