Wetlands are some of the most ecologically-important and diverse places on earth, but are often misunderstood or undervalued as unproductive land.
In Canada, where we have one quarter of the world’s wetlands, these ecosystems are disappearing at an accelerating rate, mainly due to urban development, pollution and conversion to agriculture. More than 65 per cent of the salt marshes in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, 72 per cent of wetlands in southern Ontario, and 85 per cent of British Columbia's South Okanagan wetlands, have been lost. Sadly, this is part of a global trend: since 1900 more than 64 per cent of the world’s wetlands have been lost, with nearly half of this loss happening since 1970.
Whether they are bogs, swamps, ponds, or salt marshes, wetlands are full of life: they contain a disproportionately high number of plant and animals species compared with other areas. Wetlands provide vital nesting and feeding grounds for birds, as well as habitat for insects, fish, and many other animals, such as Nova Scotia’s endangered mainland moose. As wetlands are lost, the many species that rely on them become threatened.
For these reasons, wetland conservation is one of the top priorities for the Nature Conservancy of Canada. We identify and map Canada’s most important wetlands and focus on areas that most urgently need conservation. Through partnerships with private landowners, communities, governments and other organizations, we have helped conserve 34,000 acres in Nova Scotia, including close to 3,000 acres of forest and wetlands on the Chignecto Isthmus near Amherst—a vital wildlife corridor.
In addition to their importance for wildlife, many of NCC’s wetlands inspire Canadians to connect with nature. Wetlands can provide recreational opportunities such as walking, hiking, canoeing, photography, birding and fishing. They are places for people of all ages to learn and explore. NCC’s nature reserve in Pugwash is an especially beautiful destination in fall when migratory birds are passing through in larger numbers.
On the Musquodoboit River, NCC’s nature reserves provides wetland habitat for at risk birds and turtles, and in Cape Breton, our recently conserved wetlands near Black River Bog host one of the largest collections of uncommon plants in the province.
Wetlands play an important role in the safety and health of our communities. Like a giant paper towel, they absorb and hold water to buffer our cities and farms from both floods and droughts. They play a critical role in absorbing and storing carbon pollution. They also remove sediments, excess nutrients and even bacteria from our drinking water.
The federal government has been an important partner of NCC and other conservation groups in helping preserve wetlands, through the Natural Areas Conservation Program. This program, has helped NCC conserve more than 2.8 million acres across Canada. NCC has also secured 379,000 acres of wetland habitat for migratory birds through funding made available under the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. By encouraging this investment in nature, we can protect vital wildlife habitat as well as communities that rely on the services intact wetlands provide.
Canada has committed in international agreements to protect 17 per cent of its land and inland waters by 2020. We need to focus this conservation on the places that matter most for nature and matter the most for people—and many of those places are wetlands.
By supporting wetland conservation efforts here in Nova Scotia, from the Chignecto Isthmus to the Musquodoboit River to central Cape Breton, each of us can help Canada be a world leader in saving wetlands, addressing climate change and building a natural legacy for future generations.
John Foley is the Atlantic Region Vice President with the Nature Conservancy of Canada.