Wetlands are too important not to protect, expert says on World Wetlands Day

Friday, Feb. 2 is famous as Groundhog Day. It’s also World Wetlands Day.

And wetlands are no small deal, according to Tim Teetaert, a natural area manager with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). “Canada is home to a quarter of the world’s wetlands,” he said, adding, “essentially 15 per cent of our landmass is wetlands. In Manitoba, it’s closer to 40 per cent.”

These spongey areas make significant environmental contributions Teetaert continued. “They play an important role as natural water filters. They also help to mitigate the effects of severe weather events like floods and droughts, and also kind of mitigate some of those impacts of climate change. They trap and store carbon. They (are) also (an) important habitat for plant and wildlife species.”

To mark World Wetlands Day, the NCC announced that it recently acquired 193 acres of peatland for conservation near Ste Rita, Man., about one hour east of Winnipeg.

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Teetaert said this is a great addition.

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“Peatlands are a distinctive wetland type. They’re characterized by that accumulation of peat, which is essentially that, decayed organic matter. An interesting fact about peat is that it takes about a thousand years to accumulate one metre,” he said.

These lands are “important for carbon storage,” he continued. “They store more carbon than any other terrestrial ecosystem on the Earth, so they are worth protecting.”

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Teetaert said while the NCC has 25,000 acres of conserved land,  more can be done to protect these beautiful — and critical — areas. “The current pace of conservation isn’t nearly enough to address habitat conversion, biodiversity loss, and the impacts of climate change. Canada has lost an estimated 70 per cent of its wetlands in the southern portion of the country,” he said.

Habitat conversion is changing land from its natural state to something else, Teetaert said. “When you do those changes, you are kind of losing those ecological functions that they play.” He said biodiversity loss is when species that rely on certain areas to call home are displaced.

“In Canada, about a third of our species is at risk — like plants and animals that rely on wetlands. (For) many of them, wetlands are their only habitat.”

Teetaert also said, we need to acknowledge a “balance of people, economy and nature. So it will take a whole societal approach to help nature and save our wetlands.”

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You can find ways to help conserve our province’s wetlands on NCC’s website at natureconservancy.ca.

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