Why Canada matters on World Wetlands Day — Dan Kraus
Canada is often thought of as a country of vast plains, towering mountains and sprawling coasts. But it’s also a country of wetlands, swamps, fens, marshes and bogs — all of which cover about 13 per cent of Canada.
More importantly, the wetlands of the Great White North make up approximately one-quarter of all the wetlands left in the world. They are not just important for Canadians and our wildlife, they exert an ecological influence that has a global impact.
One of the significant features of wetlands is their biological productivity. Acre for acre, wetlands are some of the most productive ecosystems in the world, on par with tropical rainforests. Many of Canada’s Important Bird Areas (IBAs) occur in wetlands, including IBAs that are significant from a global and continental perspective because they provide critical feeding and nesting habitat for birds that migrate to Canada every spring.
Wetlands also deliver a one-two punch in our fight against climate change. Some of the observed impacts of climate change include an increase in extreme storm events and flooding. The 100-year storm event our grandparents witnessed is now the 10-year storm event for our children. Wetlands act as giant green paper towels on the landscape that absorb flood waters that spill from rivers and creeks.
In addition to holding back these waters, wetlands also remove sediments and pollution. Many cities and towns across Canada now recognize that wetlands are an essential part of their municipal infrastructure in our new climate normal.
Sadly we have not been good stewards of our planet’s wetlands. Since 1900, more than 64 per cent of the world’s wetlands have been lost, with about 50 per cent of this loss occurring since 1970.
Canada’s wetlands have not been immune to extreme losses; for example, in Nova Scotia more than 50 per cent of coastal salt marshes are now gone. The remaining marshes are a conservation priority for NCC in Nova Scotia: in Port Joli, Pugwash, Musquodoboit Harbour — and soon in Cape Breton — NCC conserves valuable marsh habitat. Across Canada, over the past 50 years, NCC has permanently protected more than 155,000 acres (62,762 hectares) of wetlands for the benefit of wildlife and people.
Places of immense biological importance, wetlands also support our economy and well-being. From providing habitat for rare species to filtering our drinking water, from producing habitats for migratory birds to playing a major role in the global carbon cycle, wetlands matter to nature, Canadians and the planet.
Dan Kraus is a conservation scientist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada.