This unit's activities focus on Canada’s incredible coasts and the need to restore and protect them for the good of all creatures, from lobsters to leatherback turtles, like the one featured on the front of this poster, and from haddock to human beings.
Nowhere Near an Ocean?
Your community may be thousands of kilometres away from the nearest coast. But the health — good or ill — of our oceans matters to all of us. And what each of us does affects their well-being.
Prairie, big city, mountain, and coastal inhabitants alike, we all have a stake in conserving the life-sustaining force of oceans. They feed us, satisfy our thirst, give us air to breathe, cure us of disease, control the world’s climate, and inspire us with their beauty and mystery.
Our profound connection to the world’s oceans has resulted, in part, from the endless flow of water seaward through systems of streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands, called drainage basins. Much of the air we breathe and the water we drink, in turn, come to us on atmospheric currents from oxygen produced by ocean plants and moisture evaporated from the sea.
Oceans are often a “blind spot” in our awareness of the planet that gives us life. Pesticides sprayed on crops and leached into streams; raw sewage dumped into rivers and lakes; contaminants and greenhouse gases spewed from factories and automobiles — they all work their way out to sea through those same drainage basins and atmospheric currents. That’s why Oceans Day is as much for the landlocked as for shore dwellers. By learning how all of us are connected with oceans, we are better able to protect them — and ourselves. After all, healthy oceans are good news for everyone.
The Leatherback Turtle
The leatherback turtle is the world’s largest living reptile and the rarest of all marine turtles. It is found off Canada’s east and west coasts. With a shell as long as 2.5 m (8 ft.) and a weight of up to 900 kg (2000 lb.), the leatherback is not much smaller than its prehistoric ancestors.
The leatherback is the only existing sea turtle without a hard shell. Instead, its carapace (back plate) of thick oily cartilage is covered with rubbery, bluish-black skin marked by seven ridges.
While the leatherback is essentially a warm-water species, it is also a wanderer — the most widely distributed reptile in the world. It travels astonishing distances, well beyond sight of land, propelling itself with enormous front flippers. One tagged leatherback arrived in Newfoundland water after following the Gulf Stream 5500 km (3400 mi.) north from a nesting beach in French Guiana.
Despite the huge bulk that led to its reputation as a sea monster in folklore, this powerful swimmer is still threatened in the oceans by the occasional shark, killer whale, or ship’s propeller. Closer to Canada’s coasts, the turtle is more likely to drown after becoming entangled in fishing gear. Or it may gag on indigestible garbage and wash ashore dead, its guts clogged with plastic bags or balloons that it often mistakes for jellyfish, its favourite food.
By far the biggest threat of all to the species’ survival looms on faraway nesting beaches in tropical countries like Costa Rica. There, females are hunted for their meat and leather, and untold numbers of their eggs are pilfered for food and supposed aphrodisiacs.
Not surprisingly, the leatherback turtle is considered endangered worldwide and is listed as such by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. But the news is not all bad for the leatherback. Programs like the Ship to Shore Trash Campaign, a model plan to curb ocean pollution that was implemented by the Clean Ocean Committee of the Maritimes Fishermen’s Union, is just one of many initiatives to help leatherback turtles.
Blueprint for Community Ocean Action
Here are a few ways you can become part of an ocean-friendly Community:
- Raise awareness about ocean conservation issues in your community.
- Discover all the ways in which you and your community are connected with the ocean — how you need it to survive and how your actions help or harm marine ecosystems, no matter where you live.
- Link up with another community — coastal or inland — in a distant part of Canada or the world and collaborate on an ocean awareness activity or project.
- Undertake an international project dedicated to ocean health, working in partnership with a school or organization outside Canada.
- Do a wildlife habitat project on a marine or freshwater shoreline. Team up with a CWF Habitat 2020 school.
- Conserve Canada’s aquatic heritage, protecting freshwater and marine ecosystems, not only for their ecological importance but also for their historical and cultural value.
- Fight the invasion of aquatic habitats by purple loosestrife, zebra mussels, Eurasian ruffe, round goby, spiny water flea, and other exotic plants and animals. These alien intruders are wreaking havoc on native plant and animal habitats. Learn how to monitor their spread and report any new invasions with the help of CWF’s purple loosestrife survey.
- Persuade your town council to declare Oceans Day.
- Create an “Our Town and the Ocean” display at your local library or school using maps, aerial photos, municipal sewer plans, and river routes to demonstrate how your community is linked with the sea.
- Make posters to publicize the need to protect the marine environment; request permission to post them in your town hall or a community centre.
- Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper expressing your concerns about the oceans and what should be done about them.
- Prepare a news release or public service announcement describing your Oceans Day activities; submit it to a local newspaper or radio station.
Salvage a Salt Marsh
Sometimes called the “cradles of the sea,” salt marshes are unique coastal wetlands where countless ocean creatures begin their lives. They serve as nesting sites for shoreline birds and spawning grounds and nurseries for myriad fish and shellfish species. Ranging from temperate to arctic climates, they perform a vital function as buffers, absorbing the force of waves to protect shorelines from erosion and filtering pollutants from the land to protect marine ecosystems from contamination.
Unfortunately, salt marshes are in trouble. They, and the species that depend on them, are losing ground to natural forces, such as mighty waves and tidal surges, and human pressures, such as agriculture, urban industrial expansion, rising sea levels due to global warming, and the creation of dikes, retaining walls, and artificial beaches.
The best way to salvage these wetlands is to transplant native vegetation from donor sites. Work with local conservation authorities to collect common plants from salt marshes similar to your own.
Organize a Beach Sweep to Clean Up a Shoreline
Remember, shorelines are wildlife habitats. Leave natural materials, like driftwood, seaweed, and shells in place; prevent erosion by staying away from sand dunes and not trampling vegetation; and never disturb breeding areas, especially those of endangered species, such as the piping plover.
- Post signs depicting nesting birds with such messages as “No dumping!” and “No ATVs” along the shoreline.
- Restore vegetation by choosing native plants that provide wildlife food and cover as well as erosion control.
- Be sure to consult with experts before undertaking are vegetation project. Contact CWF for a list of Canadian sources of native plants and seeds.
- Recruit volunteers for a shoreline clean-up crusade through local media and posters displayed in community centres and other schools, and by contacting groups such as Girl Guides of Canada, Scouts Canada, and 4-H clubs. Invite local businesses to sponsor the clean-up through cash donations for supplies like garbage bags, rubber gloves, “No Dumping” signs, first-aid kits, and refreshments for volunteers.
- Arrange in advance with your municipality for the pickup of trash, recyclables, and hazardous wastes.
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