A wetland is simply any area of land covered with water for a part of the day or year. We have both freshwater and saltwater wetlands and a flock of names to describe the different kinds—lake, river, marsh, swamp, bog, fen, muskeg, pothole, flood plain, pond, puddle, and slough, to name some. Each one teems with wildlife.
While lakes and rivers act as the blood-vessels of our planet, other wetlands behave like kidneys. Plants and animals living in a marsh break down sewage and many chemicals, leaving clean soil and water behind. Ordinary cattails and bulrushes, for instance, can absorb poisonous heavy metals like lead and mercury. They can also convert fertilizer residues into growing plant parts.
Wetlands also work like sponges, soaking up rain and melted snow before they can drain off the land and into a river. Ponds and marshes reduce the risk of flooding and erosion in rainy times and help keep the nearby soil moist in dry times.
Wetlands also conserve water by feeding important underground aquifers. In Manitoba, for example, wells that deliver water to many towns and farms draw from aquifers.
What Makes It Work?
It's also important to know how all the living things in that watery ecosystem interact.
What plants grow there? What herbivores (plant-eating animals, such as mallard ducks, turtles, and moose) gobble up the green goodies? Are there carnivores or raptors in your wetland (meat- or fish-eating animals, like otters and hawks) that get food from plants second-hand? And check out the decomposers—teeny-tiny forms of life that break down animal wastes, tissues, and dead plants so they can be absorbed again and recycled by plants.
*Wetlands in Trouble
Many wetlands are destroyed or changed to make way for farmland and houses. Others are killed by pollution. People often see wetlands as wastelands buzzing with pesky mosquitoes, and many are drained to control pests. More than 65 percent of Maritime salt marshes, 70 percent of southern Ontario and St. Lawrence Valley wetlands, 40 percent of prairie wetlands, and up to 70 percent of Pacific estuary wetlands have been destroyed.
Governments and many people are working hard to protect what remains of these areas. But we still need to tell others about the importance of our wetlands for wildlife, so that they will want to help too!
Now that you know how wonderful our water is for wildlife, it's time to take action! This booklet is overflowing with splash-happy projects you can do for water and wildlife.
So roll up your sleeves... and plunge in. You won't even have to get all wet to have fun! There's no time to waste – wildlife is waiting.
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