Im­pressed with the Shearstown Es­tu­ary

The Compass - - OPINION -

I never cease to be amazed at how much I’ve learned since grad­u­at­ing high school in 1974.

Take the word “es­tu­ary,” for ex­am­ple. I sup­posed I learned it in ge­og­ra­phy which, un­for­tu­nately, wasn’t one my stronger sub­jects. I failed the course the last time I took it, in Grade 9, re­ceiv­ing 47 per cent.

I now know an es­tu­ary is a partly en­closed coastal body of brack­ish wa­ter with one or more rivers or streams flow­ing into it, and with a free con­nec­tion to the open sea.

In re­cent days, while study­ing the pub­li­ca­tion, “The Shearstown Es­tu­ary: Where the River Meets the Sea,” I gained a fresh ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the word.

This up­dated ver­sion of a book­let, pre­pared by the East­ern Habi­tat Joint Ven­ture of the prov­ince’s Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment and Con­ser­va­tion in 1998, pro­vides a syn­op­sis of some of the species that fre­quent the Shearstown Es­tu­ary and sur­round­ing area.

Es­tu­ar­ies, which are found through­out the world, are nu­tri­en­trich ecosys­tems. Some, like the Macken­zie River Es­tu­ary in the Arc­tic and the Bay of Fundy Salt Marshes, are large; oth­ers, like the Shearstown Es­tu­ary, are smaller, but no less im­por­tant. Large or small, all es­tu­ar­ies “are con­sid­ered to be among the most bi­o­log­i­cally pro­duc­tive ecosys­tems on earth.”

The Shearstown Es­tu­ary is a shal­low body of wa­ter where fresh wa­ter from Shearstown River meets and mixes with salt wa­ter from Spa­niard’s Bay.

In 1997, the towns of Bay Roberts and Spa­niard’s Bay signed a joint Mu­nic­i­pal Wet­land Stew­ard­ship Agree­ment, in ef­fect com­mit­ting to con­ser­va­tion ef­forts re­lat­ing to and greater aware­ness of the Shearstown Es­tu­ary. The ecosys­tem has his­tor­i­cally been sig­nif­i­cant to a plethora of plant, aquatic and bird species. The agree­ment raises “aware­ness of best prac­tices in and around the es­tu­ary to min­i­mize im­pact to the sen­si­tive ecosys­tem.”

Birds of the Shearstown Es­tu­ary in­clude, but are not limited to, wa­ter­fowl (Amer­i­can black duck, green­winged teal, north­ern pin­tail, com­mon gold­eneye, buf­fle­head and Canada goose), se­abird (her­ring gull, ring-billed gull, Ice­land gull, ivory gull, black-headed gull and com­mon tern), shore­bird (greater yel­lowlegs, black-bel­lied plover, semi­pal­mated plover, spotted sandpiper and ruddy turn­stone), song­bird (blue jay, black­capped chick­adee and Amer­i­can robin), and hawk (osprey). There are also Euro­pean star­lings, com­mon crows, com­mon loons and ruf­fled grouse.

Aquatic life in­cludes in­ver­te­brates (bar­na­cle, blue mus­sel, am­phi­pod and peri­win­kle) and ver­te­brates (At­lantic sal­mon, brown trout, brook trout, Amer­i­can eel, three-spine stick­le­back and win­ter floun­der).

Plants are found in var­i­ous habi­tats, in­clud­ing aquatic (eel­grass), beach (sea-rocket, oys­ter­leaf, yarrow, climb­ing false, buck­wheat, black knap­weed, curled dock and sea­side plan­tain), and salt marsh/shore­line (sil­ver­weed, white spruce, black grass, field sow-this­tle, vetch­ling, orache, Scotch lo­vage, pas­ture rose and glass­wort).

Who­ever would have known? And to think I lived four of my teenage years in Shearstown and was ig­no­rant of the nutrient-rich ecosys­tem around me!

Un­for­tu­nately, the Shearstown Es­tu­ary is be­ing threat­ened.

“Decades of abuse from hu­man ac­tiv­ity have re­sulted in the loss of crit­i­cal wildlife habi­tat and have af­fected the over­all con­di­tion of the es­tu­ary ... Many people are un­aware of their im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment and, hence, do not see their re­spon­si­bil­ity to­wards this ecosys­tem.”

What can an in­di­vid­ual do to en­sure the long-term sus­tain­abil­ity of the Shearstown Es­tu­ary or, for that mat­ter, any es­tu­ary?

The folks at the East­ern Habi­tat Joint Ven­ture sug­gest aware­ness, per­sonal re­stric­tion, plant­ing na­tive trees and shrubs, tak­ing only pic­tures and leav­ing only foot­steps, look­ing around, and help­ing to clean up.

“The fate of the Shearstown Es­tu­ary lies in the hands of the people who live and work around it ev­ery day. Res­i­dents, busi­ness own­ers, school­child­ren and com­mu­nity lead­ers all have the abil­ity to im­pact the sen­si­tive ecosys­tem of the es­tu­ary.”

Re­tain­ing the in­tegrity of the Shearstown Es­tu­ary “as a crit­i­cal type of ecosys­tem” calls for sus­tained “com­mit­ment from res­i­dents, com- mu­nity lead­ers, mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments and con­ser­va­tion or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

Even the small­est “changes in re­la­tion­ship that lo­cals have with the es­tu­ar­ine ecosys­tem can go a long way in con­serv­ing and re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing this unique habi­tat.”

“The Shearstown Es­tu­ary: Where the River Meets the Sea” is at­trac­tive to the eye gate, what with its full­colour pho­to­graphs, with ac­com­pa­ny­ing com­men­tary, of birds, aquatic life and plants. A triad of prac­ti­cal­ity, in­for­ma­tion and chal­lenge, it also in­cludes tips for clean­ing up es­tu­ar­ies, thereby neg­a­tively im­pact­ing them as lit­tle as pos­si­ble. This 24page doc­u­ment packs a wal­lop.

— Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net

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