Protect Migratory Birds
Migrants like shorebirds and waterfowl lead a double life — "commuting" between Canadian breeding grounds and overwintering grounds in the United States and Central and South America. The far-flung routes they follow year after year are called "flyways." Hundreds of thousands of these feathered migrants rest and refuel at favourite spots along the way. Their survival depends greatly on the health of each of these stopover habitats.
Semipalmated sandpipers, for example, breed along Canada's Arctic coasts. On their way south, they spend about 10 days on the mud-flats of the Bay of Fundy, gobbling up mud shrimp until their weight doubles. The sandpipers need this energy boost to complete a three-day, non-stop flight to Suriname in South America. Nearly 80 percent of red knots stop over in the Bay of Delaware each spring, feasting on horseshoe crab eggs to fuel their northward migration from Argentina to the Arctic Islands. Other species like snow geese journey from one coastal home to another via wetland rest stops as far inland as the Prairies.
Many migrants also depend on coastal and freshwater marshes because these habitat powerhouses are full of nutritious plants. In fact, marshland plants produce about three times as much foodstuff as plants cultivated on farms.
If even one of these refuelling stops is damaged by, say, pollution or land developments, a lot of migrants might never complete their journey. That's why taking ocean action to protect migratory bird habitat — from the Arctic Islands to Tierra del Fuego — is so crucial.
You can make a big difference for migratory birds:
- Choose a migratory bird species that inhabits your area. Find out where it breeds and overwinters. Map out the flyway it uses to get there and back to Canada, including where it stops along the way.
- Is your chosen species listed as endangered, threatened, or vulnerable in any of its "homes"? If so, why? Is its habitat protected?
- What habitat in your area does this species use? Does that habitat need protection? Seek advice from naturalist, conservation, and wildlife groups, as well as government wildlife agencies, staff from a nearby university, or a local environmental reporter.
How can you improve habitat for this species?
- Clean up litter or debris.
- Protect sensitive areas. The endangered piping plover, for instance, nests on sandy beaches where its well-camouflaged eggs are often crushed by all-terrain vehicles, humans, and pets. Volunteers in the Atlantic Provinces and Manitoba have been monitoring and protecting beaches where these birds nest.
- Encourage local authorities either to protect a critical habitat or establish a marine reserve.
- Plant native cover or food crops. Check with local wildlife biologists, naturalists, wildlife groups, or other experts to find out what plant species would be ideal. Don't introduce exotic plants that could take over other species. Look for plants that: are compatible with the area's soil and climate; provide wildlife with food and cover; can survive with little or no maintenance; and grow quickly in order to control erosion.
- Start awareness programs to encourage local landowners not to mow lawns or cultivate crops all the way to the water's edge. Plants that grow close to shore provide wildlife with shelter and nesting spots. They also shade aquatic habitats, keeping water temperatures down, and oxygen supplies up, in summer.
- Contact CWF for information on building predator-proof nesting structures. A simple and inexpensive example is a duck nesting box or cone mounted on a post over water to ward off egg-loving skunks and raccoons.
- Follow up on your project.
- How did your chosen species benefit? Did other species benefit too?
Use teamwork to befriend feathered travellers! Link up with schools along your chosen species' flyway. If you live in a bird's breeding range in Canada, team up with schools near that bird's winter home in Central or South America. Schools near stopover points can join too. You can also team up with these groups dedicated to protecting migratory birds:
- The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) works to conserve shorebird habitat. WHSRN has established a network of shorebird reserves in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Suriname, and the United States. Schools are welcome to participate in WHSRN's conservation activities.
Protect Coastal Zones and Watersheds
No matter where on earth you live, you're in a watershed. On a larger scale, you're in a drainage basin too. If your home is within 60 kilometres of the ocean, you're in a coastal zone as well. Whatever happens to water in your area will affect aquatic ecosystems further downstream in your watershed and within your coastal zone.
How healthy is your watershed? Here's how to find out — and to take action if the situation needs improving:
Dare to compare
Compare ideas and share information with another school in your watershed or coastal zone. The Internet can help you establish a link.
Stamp out debris
Find out if your community has the means to deal with trash in aquatic areas. Organize a beach, stream, or wetland cleanup, or adopt a watery ecosystem near you and spruce it up from time to time.
- Examine the litter you find. Can you tell where it's from? Is there any garbage along the coast that may have come from another country? Let others know about your well-travelled garbage.
- Are there enough containers to stash recyclables and trash in the area? If not, ask local authorities to supply them, or do so yourself. Get permission to stencil messages on garbage containers to remind people that litter harms wildlife.
- Come up with creative ways to reuse and recycle debris. For instance, in coastal areas, collect scraps of fishnet and offer them to fishers to patch their nets. You could also use cleaned-up net scraps in classroom crafts or as climbing gear in the gym or schoolyard.
Inspect your home or school for sources of pollution. Are there many throw-away products in use that could pollute aquatic ecosystems? How many are consumed weekly, monthly, or yearly?
- Recommend ways of reducing pollution to school boards or parent-teacher groups. Consult your library for books recommending environmentally-friendly alternatives to wasteful or hazardous products.
- Post friendly notes around home and school, reminding people to use non-hazardous products and to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
- Follow up your anti-pollution campaign after several months with another inspection. If practices have changed, post a chart comparing pollution generated at home or at school before and after your campaign.
On a larger scale
Inspect a local sewage treatment plant. Find out what pollution controls are in place by interviewing a responsible official. Here are some questions you might like to ask: How old is the facility? How much sewage does the plant process weekly, monthly, and yearly?
- What sewage treatments are employed?
- How is harmful bacteria eliminated?
- Are any other chemicals or substances removed?
- What happens to sludge once it's treated? Have studies been done to ensure that this sludge doesn't harm the environment?
- Are storm drains used to handle sewage overflows? Where do they lead? If you suspect that your sewage treatment plant is polluting the environment:
- Report the situation to your provincial or territorial environment ministry.
- Consult with biologists or wildlife experts to learn how wildlife and habitat may be harmed. These specialists might also help you find solutions.
- Present your findings to your municipal council.
- Continue to monitor the situation. Change sometimes takes a while, but steady pressure can bring about results in the long run.
Testing the waters
You can learn a lot about the health of your watershed with the help of a standard water quality testing kit.
- Use a pH test to determine if water is acid or alkaline. Healthy waters are often slightly alkaline because of carbon dioxide content. Too much alkalinity may indicate sewage pollution. Acidity often points to industrial pollution.
- Tests for nitrates and phosphates show if plant nutrients are present, and may indicate pollution from sewage or fertilizer run-off.
- Secchi disc tests for turbidity (lack of water clarity). It measures the amount of light available to aquatic plants. High turbidity may point to serious erosion or other pollution. Tests for water hardness show the amount of minerals (mostly calcium and magnesium ions) available to aquatic plants and animals. Testing the temperature of water gives a clue to its oxygen content, since cooler water contains more oxygen. Your biology text or a fisheries biologist can tell you what temperatures are suitable for different fish species.
Measuring conditions in the environment is often a challenge. Any environment, such as a beach or lake, includes many different parts, so it's difficult to take measurements of it. To deal with this challenge, scientists take samples in a way that provides findings that are representative of an entire test site. In other words, they want their measurements to reflect actual values as closely as possible. Here are some sampling basics:
- Do all tests and measurements three times — at each of three separate locations, spaced evenly apart within your test site (scientists call these locations "sampling stations").
- Record the results for each test before moving on to another sampling station. To avoid confusion, write the name or number of each sampling station beside all test results recorded there.
- Average the three results for each sampling station. Then, average the results for all three sampling stations. What are the highest values? What are the lowest values?
- If a test isn't too expensive, you can increase the number of sampling stations. This strategy gives a more accurate average over the entire test site. Increasing the number of samples taken at each station improves the accuracy of results at that sampling station.
- For more expensive tests, you can reduce the number of samples taken at each station. While accuracy is reduced, this method allows for broader coverage of your test site.
- Plot your results on a chart. Remember to note wind and weather conditions that might affect readings. Do your findings indicate water pollution? If so, can you track down its source?
Compare your results with those of other schools in your watershed or coastal zone.
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