It’s not something that smoothly rolls off the tongue like Valentine’s Day or Groundhog Day, but it should. The day isn’t greeted with traditional cards or television specials. Nor do wetlands get the public attention or affection they should. Recognizing the value of wetlands annually is important since they have a huge impact our lives daily.

Wetlands are one of Canada’s most valuable resources. They provide flood protection, recharge groundwater, reduce greenhouse gases, store carbon and offer recreational and educational opportunities for people of all ages. Wetlands also filter and remove excess nutrients and pollutants, such as phosphorous and nitrogen, that would otherwise end up in our creeks, rivers and lakes resulting in unwanted algae blooms that are harmful to pets, livestock and threaten fish populations. A recent DUC research study in the Lake Simcoe watershed clearly demonstrates the economic value of wetlands (A Business Case for Wetland Conservation – DUC 2011). Healthy wetlands also mean a healthy wildlife population. Millions of North America’s waterfowl and birds depend on Canada’s wetlands to breed and raise their young.

With the many benefits wetlands provide to Canadians, we need to protect them. In Ontario, 72 per cent of southern Ontario’s large inland wetlands have already been lost or converted to other land uses and this loss continues at an alarming rate. The decline to the wetland base has been most drastic in southwestern Ontario, parts of eastern Ontario, Niagara and the greater Toronto area, where in some regions the loss is greater than 90 per cent.

DUC believes that increased protection and restoration of Ontario’s most vulnerable ecosystems is crucial to reversing this trend, maintaining our natural heritage and improving the overall quality of life for all Ontarians. DUC continues to urge the government of Ontario to make a commitment to protect our wetlands and stop wetland loss through a wetland conservation strategy today.

Today, almost a dozen leading experts on wetland conservation and wildlife as well as nearly 200 attendees will gather together at the Ontario Wetlands Conference to share ideas and information about future action to conserve Ontario’s wetlands. During this conference Ontario Nature, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Ecojustice and Earthroots will release a joint report based on a two-year study of wetland protection within Ontario’s Greenbelt. Protecting Greenbelt Wetlands: How Effective is Policy? examines the Niagara Escarpment Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Greenbelt Plan and finds that those plans have significantly increased the level of protection for wetlands in this rapidly growing region of Ontario.

There are many simple ways to celebrate World Wetlands Day, a day that marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands signed in 1971. Also known as the Ramsar Convention, it is an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitment of its member countries to conserve wetlands.

We encourage you to visit a local wetland in your area, get involved in a wetland project in your community or contact your local elected official and talk to them about what we all can do to conserve wetlands today.

By Jim Brennan — Manager Provincial Operations, OntarioDucks Unlimited Canada