West Mabou Provincial Park is home to a sand dune system and salt marshes. Salt marshes protect shorelines from erosion by buffering wave action and trapping sediments.
February 7, 2024
-by Shelly Haill
February 2nd was World Wetland Day. What is a wetland and why does it deserve its own day, you ask? Well, if visions of dragonflies and lily pads are the only things that popped into your head, you might also want to add a giant dollar sign to that picture because, according to ACAP Cape Breton (Atlantic Canada Coastal Action Program), wetlands in Nova Scotia have been estimated to provide $7.9 billion in ecosystem benefits each year in the form of water filtration, carbon sequestration, shoreline, and erosion protection as well as flood and drought mitigation.
Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know about these benefits and often regard wetlands as “wastelands” with little or no value. Apteral, we can’t build houses on swamps, bogs, marshes, or fens and we can’t plant most crops on land soaking with water. Wetlands are also generally unsuitable for “fun” activities such as swimming and canoeing.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that many people “reclaim” wetlands, by draining them or filling them in. To do so is a serious mistake.
Wetlands are essential for providing the planet with a ready supply of fresh drinking water. Think of them as the “kidneys of the landscape.” In simple terms, human kidneys act as a specialized filtration system that removes waste materials from our blood which then pass out of our body as urine, helping to regulate blood pressure (among many other benefits). Just as we couldn’t live without our kidneys, we wouldn’t do much better without our wetlands and the vital roles they play in keeping the environment, and us, healthy.
In addition to filtering the waters of our lakes, rivers, and streams, the vegetation in wetlands removes phosphates and other plant nutrients washed in from the surrounding soil, thereby slowing the growth of algae and aquatic weeds. This growth is a serious problem in some of Canada’s major waterways where dead and decaying algae rob the deeper waters of their oxygen, which can negatively affect fish and other aquatic life.
Wetlands are also nature’s way of “tackling some of the biggest environmental issues we are facing today including increasingly extreme weather events and the disappearance of certain wildlife,” according to ACAP Cape Breton.
Wetlands act like giant sponges, soaking up rain and snowmelt and slowly releasing much-needed water in drier seasons. This means they help to reduce floods and they also ease the worst effects of drought. This checking or slowing of runoff from storms and thaws also helps to prevent soil erosion.
Wetlands also teem with biodiversity and are home, for at least some part of the year, for many insects that are essential pollinators (such as bees and butterflies) as well as fish, birds, and other animals. These areas provide essential breeding, nesting, nursery, and feeding needs. Without wetlands, some wildlife species would disappear. And so would a variety of spring and summertime songs, colours, and calls that we humans have come to enjoy.
Once you learn about all of the important things wetlands do for the economy, the environment and our health (both physical and mental), you may just find yourself taking a closer look at these often overlooked “soggy” spots and seeing them as not just vital to the well-being of frogs and dragonflies, but to ours as well.
For more information including information on how you can help re-wild wetlands, visit acapcb.na.ca.