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Unlike many countries, Canada is rich in water: our nation is home to an astonishing 25 per cent of the world’s wetlands.
Perhaps Canada’s abundance of wetlands is one reason these diverse and vital ecosystems are underappreciated and under-protected. Wetlands act as natural filters that purify our groundwater and drinking water, while at the same time providing critical habitat for wildlife: wetlands provide nesting and feeding grounds for many species of birds, they provide nursery habitat for fish, and they support a wide diversity of insects that are the foundation of the food chain. Close to half of Canada’s wildlife species, and a third of species at risk, rely on wetlands for at least part of their lifecycle.
Unfortunately, more than 50 million acres (20 million hectares) of Canada’s ponds, bogs, swamps, salt marshes, estuaries and other wetlands have been lost, mainly due to pollution and urban development. Wetlands near urban areas are particularly threatened, with 80 to 98 per cent converted to other uses. Almost everywhere Canadians live, that is, along our southern border, most of the original wetlands have disappeared. In the Atlantic provinces, where settlements are clustered along the coast, 65 per cent of coastal wetlands have already been lost.
These losses are why it’s so important for Newfoundland and Labrador to conserve its remaining wetland habitats, to protect wildlife and biodiversity, and help offset the pending impacts of a changing climate on our communities. Like a giant paper towels, wetlands hold water on the landscape, and buffer communities from the effects of both floods and droughts – which are growing more common and extreme. Wetlands also help absorb and store carbon pollution and remove sediment, excess nutrients and even bacteria from our drinking water. Wetlands are nature’s multi-taskers.
For all these reasons, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has made the conservation of wetlands in Newfoundland and Labrador a priority. Thanks to generous donations from land owners, and the support of our partners, NCC has permanently protected wetlands in the Grand Codroy Estuary, in the Grasses at the headwaters of Robinsons River, along both Barachois Brook and the Salmonier River, and at several other sites. Currently, NCC is actively working on a new project to conserve boreal forest and wetland at Freshwater Bay near St John’s. NCC has also participated in the creation of a wetland inventory for Newfoundland and Labrador, an initiative led by Dr. Bahram Salehi. The resulting map will show the location and classification of all wetlands in the province and will be a valuable tool to support conservation and land-use planning decisions.
February 2 was designated World Wetlands Day in 1971 to focus attention on these essential natural areas. Consider the fact that 64 per cent of the world’s wetlands have already been lost, a rate three times greater than the loss of forests. At this time of year—although Canada’s wetlands are mainly under ice---reflect for a moment on the crucial services they provide, services increasingly important as we seek ways to adapt to climate change.
Under the Convention on Biological Diversity, ratified by all UN member states (with the exception of the US) Canada has committed to conserve 17 per cent of its land and inland waters by 2020—including a significant percentage in every province. Making wetland conservation a priority in Newfoundland and Labrador is one way to meet that target, and secure some of our most critical ecosystems for both wildlife and people.
Nature Conservancy of Canada, NL Program Director