February 2nd, 2019 is World Wetlands Day.
Today we take action to recognize the importance of wetlands. Our wetlands provide habitat, absorb and store carbon, reduce flood risks, and reduce storm surge severity to protect our coastlines. As such, wetlands offer a natural solution to the problems created by climate change. Draining wetlands for sprawling development has the opposite effect of releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere and increasing the effects of extreme weather, particularly in floodplains and coastal areas. For these reasons, we must conserve and protect our wetlands.
The ecological goods and services provided by wetlands have a real-world cost. In Manitoba, peatlands have been steadily converted to farmland and in a 9-month period during 2016-17, about 880 hectares of wetlands were lost at an estimated cost of $7.7 million in ecological services. In 2011, agricultural losses caused by flooding saw 1.2 million hectares go unseeded, which cost the economy more than $1 billion.
Newfoundland and Labrador has a wealth of wetlands but inadequate development policies. A mitigation hierarchy (avoidance, minimization of disturbance, compensation) is lacking and provincial leadership is required to ensure decision-makers treat wetlands equally. Without adequate wetland policies, we will require expensive wetland restoration, flood-risk protection, and climate change mitigation measures at a high cost to the environment, society, and economy.
Without adequate wetland policies, we will require expensive wetland restoration, flood-risk protection, and climate change mitigation measures at a high cost to the environment, society, and economy.
One of the first steps to developing wetland policy is defining where and what are our wetlands. This can be done through a combination of satellite imagery classification and on-the-ground fieldwork assessments. Efforts have begun through the Wetland Inventory Model but much work remains. Some early estimates indicate as much as 50% of Newfoundland’s land cover may be wetlands! This would suggest we have a large responsibility for wetland protection and a valuable opportunity to become champions of climate change mitigation.
Wetland policy is growing in importance, particularly for regions under development pressures, such as the Northeast Avalon. Lundrigan’s Marsh , for example, faces issues of encroachment and chronic pollution while acting as an important filter and sink to protect the downstream Virginia River / Quidi Vidi watershed. Northeast Avalon ACAP has been working hard to bring awareness to this area and rejuvenate the wetland through cleanups and planting.
We encourage people to get out and spend time at local wetlands, doing things like birdwatching or hiking, to ensure we have a presence and that they aren’t forgotten.
Visit WorldWetlandsDay.org to learn more about the importance of wetlands.
Attend ‘For the Love of Wetlands – Kids Club Program‘ 1:30-2:30 pm at the Fluvarium hosted by our friends at the Stewardship Association of Municipalities and Ducks Unlimited Canada.
Let your government representatives know that you value the importance of wetlands and that we need a modern policy for wetlands that provide important ecological functions.