The Essex Region Conservation Area is calling on the public to take small steps to protect area wetlands in recognition of World Wetlands Day.
The theme this year is “Wetlands for our Future” and ERCA is asking people to make some kind of personal pledge like taking shorter showers or using renewable bags for groceries.
“Any actions that you’re taking, any actions that people take to conserve water and to protect our local environment are helping to preserve the integrity of wetlands,” said Danielle Stuebing, ERCA director of community outreach services.
Stuebing said wetlands are considered “nature’s sponges.” In this area, they help stop pollutants from entering the Great Lakes system and hold excess water to prevent flooding.
According to ERCA, almost 98 per cent of original wetland areas in Essex County have been lost to development and agriculture.
The largest remaining area in this region is the Hillman Marsh Conservation Area in Leamington, which is also used by the authority for student field trips.
Stuebing said Hillman Marsh is a managed wetland cell, which means the water levels can be controlled, “which helps to re-nourish it for various species.”
ERCA also works to protect these areas from invasive species, such as conducting culls of the Purple Loosestrife at Hillman, Stuebing said.
The authority also has four ongoing projects to create wetland areas in partnership with private landowners. They range in size from 0.5 acres to 2 acres.
The projects involve digging the land, seeding it with native grasses and wildflower species in the spring, tree-planting on the banks of the wetland. Over time, the areas will fill with water to create the habitat, Stuebing said.
Landowners need to meet certain requirements like property size to be eligible for ERCA’s grant program, she said.
“Once the project is completed, they would then agree to maintain it for a certain number of years to ensure the legacy value of that environmental improvement project,” said Stuebing.
World Wetlands Day is organized by the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental agreement promoting the conservation of wetlands. The day has been held Feb. 2 every day since 1997.
The world-wide challenge this year is for people aged 15 to 24 to take a photo of a wetland between Feb. 2 and March 2 and upload it through www.worldwetlandsday.org. Winners will be awarded a free flight to any wetland location in the world or five tickets to the Evian Championship golf tournament in France.