International Youth Day – Wetlands and Agriculture

Hi my name is Christine Drader, I am 24 years old and am a First Nations Conservation Technician here at your Toronto Zoo, where I work with the Turtle Island Conservation and Adopt-A-Pond programs.

Christine holding one of our tracked Blanding’s turtles, processed with proper permits.

This year’s theme for International Youth Day is “Transforming Food Systems”. Here at the Zoo, I mainly work in wetland environments on various projects that aim to conserve local wildlife species, including the Blanding’s turtle. These projects include our Blanding’s turtle headstart and monitoring program, road mortality mitigation studies, and other long-term species-at-risk monitoring. These projects both directly and indirectly impact local wetland species-at-risk and the overall health of these habitats, which play an essential role in food systems such as agriculture!   

Wetlands provide a variety of ecosystem services that can benefit agriculture such as: 

🌱 Supporting fertile soils, reducing erosion and retaining sediments and nutrients,

🌱 Support aquaculture or grazing,

🌱 Provide clean drinking water,

🌱 Provide shade, wind buffering, and habitat for animal species,

🌱 Provide a range of raw products such as timber, stock fodder, salt, peat, and firewood,

🌱 Act as natural filters in waste water treatment,

🌱 Assist in drought resilience,

🌱 Assist in flood prevention.

Additionally, wetlands have important roles in terms of Indigenous cultural and spiritual significance. I am of Indigenous descent as a Métis individual. The livelihoods, food security and cultural heritage of Indigenous Peoples is often connected to wetlands. I was taught to have a relationship with Mother Earth (also known as Creator), including wetlands, and that it is our responsibility to preserve and protect her. Wetland ecosystems provide many Indigenous communities with food such as fish, waterfowl, and cranberries, as well as plant medicines, lumber, and peat. Additionally, wetlands are home to many culturally and spiritually significant animals such as the beaver, turtle, crane, and loon, and sacred plants such as cedar and sweetgrass. 

I am proud to be an Indigenous youth working in such an important ecosystem. I am honoured on behalf of my heritage as well as my future as a conservation scientist to be helping in the preservation of wetlands and their local species. I hope we can work towards a future where we dismiss thought of wetlands as useless areas, and instead promote and protect them as an essential ecosystem. 

Wetland in Rouge National Urban Park at sunset