When I was a kid I spent part of my summer every year at summer camp. Those weeks always involved canoe trips along various rivers and lakes in north eastern Ontario. Almost every trip involved travelling through swamps and marshes. I remember navigating narrow, winding bands of open water through the reeds, lily pads and bullrushes. These wetlands were always teeming with life. We drifted past frogs sitting on lily pads, fish, large dragon flies, occasional muskrats, beaver dams and lodges, song birds and herons, and from time-to-time a moose walking gracefully through the marsh.
The journeys through the wetlands were usually a peaceful and relaxing part of the trip. We had to slow our pace to make our way through the typically winding river. Our counsellors gave us time to observe the life around us. The water was calm and we didn’t often have to work against the wind the way we frequently did on the open water of a lake.
Wetlands like these perform important functions in our ecosystem.
- They are home to many species of birds, animals and insects.
- Wetlands serve as a filtration system for our rivers and lake by capturing sediments and toxic substances.
- They provide capacity in the ecosystem to absorb floods and large waves – there aren’t a lot of large waves on the lakes I travelled, but wave absorption is very important in coastal wetlands.
- Due to the diversity of wildlife, wetlands provide recreational opportunities for birdwatching, hunting and fishing.
Unfortunately many wetlands, especially those in populated areas, have been filled in and built over. They were considered wasted land since they couldn’t be farmed (although they are great for growing cranberries). Roads had to be built around or through them and they took up land that communities wanted for housing.
In the community where I grew up I lived on Water street, which was so named for our proximity to the tamed river that runs through the middle of the city. The river used to meander with wetlands on either side and islands in the middle. Early in the life of the city the wetlands on either side were filled in – in most cases with garbage and construction waste. The river was straightened out with linear banks and dams along the route to control the flow and flooding. The river regularly floods as a result of the lack of wetlands to absorb the excess water in the spring. Now instead of a wide diversity of wildlife along the sides of the river, the space is reserved for human use.
Canada contains 25% of the globe’s wetlands and 14% of Canada is covered with wetlands. We have a particular responsibility to protect these important parts of our local and global ecosystems. They serve as important stops for migrating waterfowl and help to recharge and filter our groundwater systems. We all have an obligation to support the preservation of our wetlands.
Just like I learned about the importance of wetlands in my youth, we have and can make opportunities as parents to educate our kids about protecting wetlands and preserving our overall ecosystems. Kids who attend the Minecraft theme week at Stem Camp this summer will have the opportunity to explore how wetlands work and their importance to environmental and human health.
I have been compensated for this series with no cost registrations for my kids who will be attending STEM Camp this summer.