Wetland Conservation and How WE Can Make a Difference

Written by: Christine Drader

Here at Adopt-A-Pond, we have the great fortune to be able to work on a vital habitat and ecosystem—wetlands. Wetlands support an abundance of biodiversity, and they are home to 20% of Ontario’s species at risk, including our beloved Blanding’s turtles! You can read more about the role of wetlands with wildlife in our previous blogpost (Is there anything wetlands can’t do?  | Adopt-A-Pond News (wordpress.com)). However, they are delicate ecosystems and at great risk of habitat loss. Less than 30% of Southern Ontario’s original wetlands remain, and this number drops down to 10% in the Niagara and Greater Toronto Area. 

A swamp wetland in Southern Ontario.

 What are the Threats to Wetlands? 

 A variety of factors contribute to wetland loss, including: 

  • Drainage for agricultural purposes to provide rich organic soils for crops. 
  • Industrial and housing developments are built as wetlands are drained or filled. 
  • Dredging and filling for the development of harbours, marinas, and cottages. 
  • Water pollution from chemicals or organic enrichment. 
  • The introduction of invasive plants such as purple loosestrife has resulted in a loss of diversity in wetlands. 
  • Peat extraction, (i.e., “peat moss”) for gardening and other purposes. 
  • Increased sedimentation from upstream developments. 
  • Interrupted or unreliable water sources. 

Of these threats, development of natural areas is the primary cause of wetland loss in southern Ontario. The Great Lakes Coastal wetlands are particularly threatened as it is estimated that 50% have been lost, particularly near larger towns and cities.  

A grey treefrog in a wetland habitat in Southern Ontario. Frog species are very sensitive to habitat changes. The conversion of wetland and forest to urban and agricultural land uses is a significant threat to this species throughout the southern portion of its Canadian range. 

Why are Wetlands Important? 

You might wonder why wetlands are so important. They often come with the stigma as being “waste land”. If being the home to the Blanding’s turtle hasn’t convinced you, here are some other ways wetlands are vital ecosystems: 

  • Wetlands help reduce flooding by absorbing tremendous amounts of water from rain or melted snow. For example, one hectare (2.47 acres) of peat and grasses can absorb and hold 3,200,000 litres (740,000 gallons) of water with a 1/3 metre (one foot) rise. This is very important as wetlands have the ability to release this water during drier seasons. 
  • Wetlands enhance and protect our water quality by filtering our lakes, streams and rivers. During summer months, cattails have the ability to remove phosphates, nitrogen, and other plant nutrients, thus reducing pollution, algae, and aquatic weeds. Wetlands produce 20% to 50% of the nitrogen which is returned to the atmosphere. 
  • Wetlands provide habitat for a great diversity of wildlife species. This is an extremely important function as most animals rely on a wetland for at least some part of their life cycle, and some species can only exist in wetlands. 
  • The rich plant and animal life within wetlands provides an opportunity for scientific studies, educational field trips as well as many forms of recreation, such as canoeing, wildlife photography, birdwatching, fishing, and hiking. 
A Blanding’s turtle headstart within a Southern Ontario wetland.

How are Wetlands Protected? 

In 2017, the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) released “A Wetland Conservation Strategy for Ontario 2017-2030″. This document guides wetland conservation across the province. Its goal is to halt net loss of wetland area and function in southern Ontario by 2025 and by 2030 to have achieved an overall net gain in wetland area. 

Ontario’s Municipal planning has put forth rules to protect wetlands against development near or on Provincially Significant Wetlands. A Provincially Significant Wetland is one that has high biological, social, hydrological and special feature components, and has been designated as significant by the MNRF. 

Conservation authorities are working to protect wetlands as well as assess and issue permits for developments that are proposed near or on wetland ecosystems that are not provincially protected. To mitigate the loss of wetlands, they also restore and create wetlands. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority is currently working on many projects within the Toronto region, you can learn more about their efforts at Wetlands – Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) 

What Can We Do to Make a Difference? 

Here are things we can do to make a difference in wetland conservation: 

  1. Protect and preserve existing habitat through cleanup projects (The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup :: Ocean Wise), avoid planting non-native species, use pesticides and fertilizers sparingly, and maintaining a buffer strip of native plants along streams and wetlands.   
  1. Restore degraded wetlands so that amphibian populations can remain. 
  1. Create a pond- if you build it, they will come. In some places, this may be the only place that will ensure the survival of amphibians in your community. 
  1. Raise funds to donate to an organization involved in wetland conservation. 
  1. Learn more about wetlands and share this knowledge with others. 
  1. Take part in an Amphibian Monitoring Program. Check out Adopt-A-Pond’s Turtle Tally and FrogWatch programs and App at Toronto Zoo | Adopt A Pond – Citizen Science 
  1. Speak out – voice your concerns about wetland destruction to the local media, to government, or to others who can help you to create change. 
  1. Share your ideas and experiences with others. 
Some Canada geese (far out on logs) and a beaver (swimming in middle) enjoying a pond within a restored wetland area in the Rouge National Urban Park.  

If you aren’t swamped with information already, check out the links below for more wetland content! 

To continue learning about wetlands and their importance, please be sure to watch out for more content on our Adopt-A-Pond Facebook Adopt A Pond | Facebook  

To learn more about what Adopt-A-Pond does to conserve wetlands species and their habitats check out: Toronto Zoo | Adopt A Pond