Feb. 2 marks the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands in 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar. Each year since 1997, government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and groups of citizens at all levels of the community undertake actions aimed at raising public awareness about wetlands, their value and their benefits to all forms of life.
Looking back to a time not so long ago, wetlands were often dismissed as ‘swamps’ – i.e. ‘waste areas’.
And yet, wetlands are some of our most proactive habitats with a richness of plant and animal life.
Sadly, even in our present-day ‘enlightened era,’ we are losing critical wetland habitat at an alarming rate.
What is a wetland? Simply put, it is habitat dominated by water, like a marsh, fen or bog, with cattails, bulrushes, and other submerged or emergent plants. Water in the wetlands is relatively still, unlike a river or a stream, where wetlands form at their mouths (estuaries).
Our wetlands are inhabitated by a marvelous array of creatures like dragonflies, birds (like the locally threatened Great Blue Heron) and aquatic mammals (like the endangered Pacific water shrew).
More than ducks rely on wetlands for their survival. Wetland habitats are critical to fish populations like salmon, shorebirds, a host of fascinating birds like rails, while dragonflies with flashes of gold, green, red and blue add their exotic beauty to wetlands.
Amphibians like the beautiful Pacific tree (Chorus) frog, the red-legged frog, and rough-skinned newt are a few of our amphibians that cannot survive without healthy, unpolluted wetlands.
Loss of habitat and the invasive bullfrog are also threats to amphibian populations.
We often hear about endangered species, but it is important to think about endangered habitats like wetlands, the homes of birds, mammals, fish, amphibians and a myriad of invertebrates who, along with plants, have critical roles to play in ecological food webs.
We all can help in the struggle to protect our wetlands:
• Awareness is key – visit local wetlands (mornings are great when the birds are singing, especially in the spring). Two suggestions include Elgin Park and the Serpentine Wildlife Management Area.
• Help inform others to never pour chemicals, detergents, etc. into street drains (many are marked with signs – or an image of a fish – but not all are.
• Help clean-up projects with local nature groups.
• Join a nature walk to learn more about local plant and animal life.
• Visit the Birds on the Bay website for more details about upcoming programs. www.birdsonthebay.ca
Al Grass, Surrey