Why Canada mat­ters on World Wet­lands Day

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL - Dan Kraus Na­tional Af­fairs Dan Kraus is a con­ser­va­tion sci­en­tist with the Na­ture Con­ser­vancy of Canada. He lives near Guelph, Ont.

Ed­i­tor’s note: World Wet­lands Day is cel­e­brat­ing its 20th an­niver­sary on Feb. 2. It was es­tab­lished to raise aware­ness about the value of wet­lands for hu­man­ity and the planet.

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 the Na­ture Con­ser­vancy of Canada (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.

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