Kelly's PondPhoto Credits: Winston Maud
Freshwater wetlands are home to a diverse ecosystem filled with life. Many native plants and animals such as ducks, frogs and cattails call this habitat home. Wetlands have many looks, ranging from small roadside marshes to a multi hectare bog. On Prince Edward Island, a freshwater wetland/pond consists of any area of land that is regularly covered or soaked with water for most or all of the year (DEEF, 1998). On a larger scale, 40% of the world's species rely on freshwater wetlands for survival, outlining the importance of preservation. Canada is the home to the largest amount of wetlands, encompassing 25% of the world's wetlands (Harding, 2021).
Wetlands develop in low-lying areas, often near streams and rivers. In Stratford, most of the ponds and their respective marsh areas are small in size, however that does not decrease their impacts. Swamps, fens and bogs have historically been found in abundance on Prince Edward Island however trends show a decrease in recent years. These areas are in need of protection and preservation as new developments put them at risk.
Freshwater ecosystems are considered to be more imperiled than marine or terrestrial systems; despite this, threats to these habitats still recieve little public attention, which leads to a lack of general awareness of what a healthy freshwater system should look like.
Threats to Freshwater Ecosystems
Impacts of globalization - the growing human population, coupled with the conversion of rural areas to city-like landscapes, has led to the degradation and pollution of freshwater systems. Add in the effects of climate change (ex. increased drought and flood periods), and more complex issues can quickly develop, including threats to food security, economic growth, and human well-being.
Land-use change - urban sprawl has increased freshwater supply through the construction of dams, but has more significantly increased the demand for freshwater, meaning there's simply never enough to go around. The conversion of forests to croplands worsens this issue by changing the underlying surface of the landscape, which can alter groundwater supply, evaporation rates, and increase runoff.
Hydrological alteration - there is a lack of free-flowing (ie. unaltered) freshwater systems Canada-wide. Humans have converted the majority of freshwater sources in some way to better serve our own interests, however we've failed to consider the effects of this within the wider environment.
Microplastics - our reliance on plastic in every aspect of our lives, and the improper recycling of plastic waste, has led to the accumulation of microplastics (ie. tiny plastic particles) in our waterways. This introduces toxic chemicals to water, contaminates ground sediment, and negatively affects aquatic species.
Road salts and sands - although important in keeping our roadways safe, road salts and sands frequently enter freshwater systems via snowmelt and runoff. This salinizes freshwater sources, alters zooplankton abundance, reduces water quality, and hinders the mixing of oxygen and nutrients in the water column, which can have fatal consequences for aquatic species.
Lack of research - despite Canada containing 20% of global freshwater, there continues to be a lack of nation-wide data on key indicators of freshwater ecosystem health. This has contributed to our lack of understanding on the full scale of impacts of human activities in watersheds.
Luckily, PEI is an exception to this; with the help of Atlantic DataStream, we've been collecting data on the health of our sub-watersheds in the Stratford area for several years now.
What's a Riparian Zone?
A riparian zone is the strip of land and vegetation immediately adjacent to a body of freshwater. This unique ecosystem is a hotspot for biodiversity, and connects terrestrial and aquatic environments to each other.
Despite their narrow range, riparian zones have a disproportionately high ecological role, and influence far beyond their immediate area.
Riparian zones play a critical role in:
Dissipating energy assoc. with flood events
Shading stream channels
Nitrogen removal (ie. preventing eutrophication)
Facilitating species migration
If you own land with a buffer zone on it, it's important to keep it in top physical condition to get the most out of your riparian zone!
How YOU Can Help
If you hold traditional ecological knowledge about a freshwater system, reach out to your local conservation group to help improve the effectiveness of a management plan, while also ensuring that your voice is heard!
Make personal efforts to expand your buffer zone if you own property.
Not sure where to start? Contact us and we can point you in the right direction!
Don't own property but still want to do your part? Support your local watershed group in the form of volunteering or donating; this will help them to meet their goals quicker.
Pick up litter in your local area. Not only does this prevent it from reaching sensitive waterways, but it also improves the appearance of the landscape!