Survey a Shoreline
Get to know a seacoast, lakeside, or riverbank firsthand. Most likely, your patch of the planet has an area where land meets water that could be a site for wildlife habitat projects. Here's how to make the most of a field trip to a shoreline:
- Before you go, learn all about the life-giving value of shorelines, the problems facing them, and what we can do to keep them healthy.
- Get permission from a landowner or your municipality before visiting a site.
- Discuss safety rules with the rest of your class. Never enter water without permission from your teacher. Recruit older students, parents, or community volunteers to maximize safety.
- Pack necessities, such as sunblock, insect repellent, a first aid kit, appropriate clothing and footgear, binoculars, magnifying glass, thermometer, tape measure, and field guides to shoreline plants and animals.
- Observe a "coastal code of conduct" during your field trip. Tread lightly on shorelines and avoid trampling barnacles, algae, lichens, mosses, and snails. Leave seaweed and empty shells where they lie (hermit crabs and other coastal creatures need them for protection from predators). Never move living things from one shoreline to another. Leave the flora and fauna in tidal pools for viewing only (just dipping your hand in a pool can have a serious impact). Avoid disturbing shoreline birds, especially when they're nesting, and do not handle bird eggs or wildlife young. Clean up all your trash (garbage attracts predators that eat eggs and nestlings).
- Divide into teams of five or six students, each assigned different tasks, such as surveying animals and plants in a 50-metre stretch of shoreline, evaluating contrasting sectors (possibly one developed and the other wild), or collecting data on a habitat element (food, water, shelter, or space) across a broad expanse.
- Record your observations. Look for signs of healthy habitat and problems, such as pollution and erosion. Sit quietly in a sheltered spot and catch glimpses of shoreline inhabitants going about their daily routines. List species you see, such as sea stars, gulls, foxes, voles, and honeysuckle, as well as any food webs that exist among them. Notice how shoreline species have adapted to their surroundings through coloration, body covering, motion, and feeding techniques and record the data in a table.
- You can also record your observations in poetry, stories, journals, sketches, paintings, and photographs.
- Map the shoreline, indicating where environmental and wildlife habitat projects could occur. Show such characteristics as roads, dikes, bridges, buildings, fences, rivers, marshes, cliffs, coves, forests, sand dunes, and recreational areas.
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. The meeting of fresh and salt water — and wildlife from both environments — makes salt-marshes one of the Earth’s most life-rich ecosystems, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs in their diversity.
Plants able to thrive in this brackish environment are the key habitat element of the salt-marsh, providing abundant food and cover for many species, from single-celled protozoans to semi-aquatic mammals. The endangered maritime ringlet butterfly flutters here. Bank swallows swoop over cordgrass in pursuit of mosquitoes and midges. Plovers and sandpipers feed on chironomid larvae. And untold avian migrants, including waterfowl and wading birds, refuel here en route from breeding to wintering habitats.
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, like agriculture; urban and industrial expansion; rising sea levels because of global warming; and the creation of dikes, retaining walls, and artificial beaches. Salt-marshes along Hudson Bay in the North have been almost wiped out by snow geese, which are eating themselves out of house and home as their numbers explode on account of an oversupply of food (corn, wheat, and rice left on farmers' fields) on their wintering grounds in the U.S. South.
- Because plants play a key role in salt-marsh habitats, the best way to salvage these wetlands is to transplant native vegetation from donor sites.
- Working in consultation with a local conservation authority, collect small quantities of common plants from salt-marshes similar to your own. For best results, choose species from the "Salt-marsh Planting Chart."
- Use a shovel to uproot plants in clumps with a few stems and soil surrounding their roots. Do not remove entire bunches.
- Keep plants damp while out of water and transplant them to the new site as soon as possible. Dig holes with a shovel or by pounding a stake into sediment.
- Push roots about 5 cm below the surface, packing soil around them.
- Roots must be firmly anchored. If necessary, hold each clump down with a forked dead branch.
Restore a Sandy Shore
Beaches and dunes of sandy shores are constantly being reshaped by waves, tides, winds, and violent storms. These ever-shifting worlds make life hard for wildlife. Only specialized creatures — largely sand-hoppers, which escape from the elements by burrowing beneath the surface — survive here. Sandpipers and plovers race up and down the beach with each rising and falling wave, snatching tiny crustaceans from soggy sands. Gulls and terns fly along the water s edge in search of edibles washed from the sea. The critical element on beaches and dunes — the glue that holds everything in place — is vegetation. Many insects and amphipods find food and shelter in the hardy grasses and wildflowers that grow along the high tide line. Further inland, where shrubs and thickets speckle the dunes, such animals as voles, rabbits, reptiles, and songbirds carve out their niches. They, in turn, attract predators like hawks, owls, foxes, and raccoons.
The natural instability of beaches and dunes is aggravated by human intrusions, like tourism, foot traffic, and all-terrain vehicles, which uproot plants and crush animals above and below the surface. Without the deep roots of protective plants holding them in place, vast stretches of sandy coastline erode and drift aimlessly with winds, waves, and tides, forcing beach and dune creatures to seek food and shelter on friendlier shores.
- To help restore a sandy shore, team up with your community and a local conservation authority.
- Protect dunes from erosion by building elevated boardwalks with handrails and by putting up sand fencing to reduce the impact of foot traffic.
- Organize a beach sweep to clean up marine debris.
- Post signs depicting nesting birds with such messages as "No dumping!" and "No ATVs, please!" along the shoreline.
- Restore vegetation by choosing native plants that provide food and cover for wildlife as well as erosion control. Be sure to consult with experts before undertaking a revegetation project.
- Regular weeding may be necessary while native plants are repopulating bare patches of sand.
Revive an Inland Ribbon of Life
Freshwater shorelines, too, are vital links between land and water. The lushly vegetated edges of our lakes, wetlands, rivers, and streams (called riparian zones) are indispensable to both terrestrial and aquatic species. These ribbons of life serve as buffer strips, protecting banks from erosion, safeguarding water quality, cooling freshwater bodies, and providing some of the world’s most productive wildlife habitat — to say nothing of the incomparable beauty they add to the landscape.
Like seacoasts, however, freshwater shorelines are endangered by widespread human developments, the destruction of native vegetation, invasion of harmful "alien" species, pollution, erosion, and countless other threats to their life-sustaining value.
Luckily, this website is overflowing with strategies to revitalize freshwater shorelines, including projects to restore a vegetation buffer, to rejuvenate aquatic plant communities, to fight the alien invasion, to turn rocks and woody debris into microhabitats, to adopt an urban waterfront, to protect Prairie potholes and streams, to promote shoreline-friendly cows and crops, to accommodate fish, amphibians, waterfowl, and colonial-nesting birds, and a whole lot more.
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