If you used water today for brushing your teeth, cooking, or quenching your thirst, you probably have a wetland to thank. World Wetlands Day, celebrated annually on February 2, is an opportunity to learn more about the value and importance of wetlands. This year is also an opportunity to redouble our efforts to protect these vital natural spaces that are disappearing before our eyes. In a rapidly changing world, the more wetlands we lose, the more valuable those that remain.
Swamps, freshwater and saltwater marshes, fens and bogs all play vital roles in our daily lives, providing ecological services, such as flood control and carbon storage, while supporting food production. Like oversized filters, wetlands act as our natural water treatment systems by removing sediment, excess nutrients and even bacteria from drinking water.
A University of Waterloo study found that southern Ontario wetlands provide $4.2 billion in sediment filtration and phosphorus removal services each year, helping to keep our sources clean drinking water and help reduce harmful algal blooms.
But these vital ecosystems are disappearing very quickly due to urbanization and land use practices. Wetland loss and degradation is particularly high in southern Canada, where most people live. Some estimate that we have lost 70% of our country’s wetlands in settled areas.
With droughts, floods, heat waves and storm surges hitting many parts of Canada in the past year, the impacts of climate change are more apparent than ever and the more we become dependent on wetlands for our own protection. Like giant sponges, wetlands absorb, retain and replenish water, trap and store carbon, and help protect our properties, farms and local infrastructure from the adverse effects of climate change. As wetlands continue to disappear, so do the many benefits they provide.
About one-third of all plant and wildlife species at risk in Canada live in wetlands and, in some cases, rely on them as their only type of habitat. Wetlands are vital nesting and feeding areas for waterfowl. At least half of the wildlife in North America depends on wetlands for part of its life cycle.
In British Columbia, the Nature Conservancy of Canada has helped protect nearly 3,000 hectares of wetland habitat to date, including salmon-rearing streams and beaver ponds in the recently announced Snowshoe Creek conservation in the Bella Coola Valley. NCC’s restoration work in the province over the next year will restore and enhance wetlands in the Creston Valley, South Okanagan and South Vancouver Island.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) recently reached a major milestone by helping to conserve more than 15 million hectares of land and water, including 1 million in the past two years alone, doubling the pace of conservation . Thousands of wetland protection and restoration projects are included in this total.
Despite these significant achievements, rates of habitat loss outpace everyone’s conservation efforts. The scale and urgency of the challenge have grown. We know that we must now work at an unprecedented rate to ensure the survival of nature and our own survival systems.
There has never been a more important time for nature conservation, especially given Canada’s climate and conservation goals, including protecting 25% of the country’s land and water by 2025. Wetland conservation and restoration are cost-effective and important nature-based solutions. for people and local communities.
With 25% of the world’s wetlands, Canada can make a difference on a global scale. Everyone, from individuals to foundations and corporations, can turn intention into action by supporting the efforts of conservation organizations like the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
Nature is our ally. When nature thrives, we all thrive.
Nancy Newhouse is Regional Vice-President of the Nature Conservancy of Canada in British Columbia