World Wetlands Day is an annual celebration on February 2nd for the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance in 1971. If you didn’t know about it or didn’t have the time to celebrate: that’s okay. Celebrating wetlands does not have to be a once-a-year occurrence. You can celebrate wetlands any day!
What is a wetland?
A wetland is defined as land that is saturated with water long enough to promote wetland or aquatic processes as indicated by poorly drained soils, hydrophytic vegetation and various kinds of biological activity which are adapted to a wet environment.
Types of Wetlands:
- Bog – A bog is a peat-filled wetland that receives its water and nutrients from rain. Bogs are low in nutrients and are acidic.
- Fen – Fens are characterized by having flowing water year round. Fens tend to have a higher nutrient content than bogs and can support a wider variety of biodiversity.
- Swamp – Swamps are wooded wetlands that are flooded for a portion of the year. The woody vegetation found in swamps includes water-tolerant tree and shrub species.
- Marsh – A marsh is a wetland that is periodically inundated by standing or slow-moving water. These ecosystems are rich in nutrients and are characterized by emergent vegetation such as reeds, rushes, and sedges.
Why are wetlands important?
According to Ducks Unlimited, up to 70% of Canada’s wetlands have been destroyed or degraded and with this decline – we experience a decline in the benefits they provide. An estimated 68% of wetlands in southern Ontario have been converted from their natural state to support housing development and agricultural activities. The remaining wetland face challenges such as pollution and invasive species which threaten the health and functionality of these ecosystems.
Wetlands provide critical habitat for many species at risk including the endangered King Rail, the threatened Fowler’s Toad, and the special-concern Red-headed Woodpecker.
In addition to the species at risk, many species rely on wetlands for spawning, nesting, foraging as they provide habitat for waterfowl, mammals, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and plants.
Migratory species, including hundreds of species of birds and the Monarch butterfly utilize and may use wetlands during their annual migratory journey.
The role of wetlands in the hydrological cycle may often be over-looked, however, this ecosystem type has a significant influence on the hydrological cycle. Groundwater recharge and discharge, sediment stabilization, and supporting water quality
Wetlands provide natural spaces which may allow users to connect with the outdoors for learning and recreation. Learning and recreation may host tourists for hiking, photography, and other activities, supporting nearby communities.
Wetlands can absorb and hold water following hydrologic events reducing the negative impacts of water elsewhere (i.e. flooding).
What you can do to support wetlands?
Restoration of wetlands is one way to build the ecological integrity of Canada’s wetland ecosystems and protect the species dependent on them. Restoration activities may include: the removal of invasive species to provide space for native species, building dikes or barriers, and planting native plant species to reduce erosion.
Donating to or volunteering for organizations involved in the restoration and management of wetlands is one way to support the health and functionality of wetland ecosystems in Canada. Donations can fund restoration activities including invasive species removals, tree plantings, and large scale projects. Volunteering your time to participate in litter-clean-ups and other activities is a great way to contribute to the health of wetland ecosystems
Abiding by laws, safety guidelines, and signage while visiting protected wetlands is the first step towards ensuring the integrity of these areas.
Learn more about wetlands and the biodiversity they support and encourage others to do the same. You can help others to understand the local and global benefits of wetlands simply by talking about them and sharing your knowledge.
Wetlands to visit in Southern Ontario:
- Beverly Swamp in Hamilton (Swamp)
- Big Creek National Wildlife Area in Port Rowan (Marsh)
- Sifton Bog in London (Bog)
- Singing Sands Beach and Trails near Tobermory (Fen)
- St. Clair National Wildlife Area in Chatham-Kent (Marsh)
- Wye Marsh Nature Centre in Midland (Marsh)
References and suggested reading: