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Conserving Canada’s Wetlands

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Wetland loss major factor in algae-filled Canadian lakes

Stonewall, Man., August 15, 2012 — Yesterday, a report published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences was released indicating that a survey of nearly 250 lakes across Canada found a potent liver toxin in every province, with the highest concentrations in central Alberta and southern Manitoba. Over the last 10 years, the levels of the cyanobacterial (blue-green algae) toxin called microcystin have often exceeded maximum guidelines for potable and recreational water quality.

Over the last few weeks, water quality issues have been surfacing throughout Alberta and Manitoba. Many lakes and beaches have been negatively impacted by algae blooms, placing them under algae advisory warnings. This greatly impacts summer recreational activities that normally take place at these lakes, can be lethal to fish and other wildlife, and could even start influencing property values on the affected lakes.

“The state of some of our Canadian lakes is very unfortunate and something needs to be done to prevent further decay,” said Shane Gabor, research biologist at Ducks Unlimited Canada. “Wetlands, including marshes and ponds, play a significant role in filtering the water that goes into our lakes and rivers, yet we continue to lose 80 acres or the equivalent of 45 soccer fields worth of wetlands every day. The solution is clear, if we want cleaner lakes, the first step is to put a stop to wetland drainage in order to protect these important ecosystems.”

Intact natural wetlands on the landscape filter and absorb contaminants and excess nutrients before they reach our rivers and lakes. Unfortunately, we have lost a great deal of these effective water filters. Up to 70 per cent of wetlands have been lost or degraded in Canada as a result of urbanization, agriculture and industrial expansion.

When a wetland is drained, it results in an increase of water flowing off of the land and with that water goes excess nutrients, sediment, pesticides and pathogens, which contribute to decreasing water quality in our lakes and rivers. Phosphorous, in particular, is one of the key contributors to algae formation.

Given the historical evidence and recent research that Ducks Unlimited Canada and others have gathered, an effective and proven solution is clear – wetland conservation and restoration may be one of the most effective ways to protect the quality and quantity of water in our lakes and rivers. Provincial governments across the Prairies are beginning to take steps toward developing provincial wetland policies, but more work needs to be done because wetland loss still continues.

“Wetland drainage contributes to excess nutrients moving off of the land, and excess nutrients contribute to these kinds of problems,” said Scott Stephens, director of regional operations for DUC in prairie Canada. “This report underscores, yet again, the importance for all provincial governments to get on with the business of protecting wetlands, which is our first line of defense to water quality deterioration and flooding.”

Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) is the leader in wetland conservation. A registered charity, DUC partners with government, industry, other non-profit organizations and landowners to conserve wetlands that are critical to waterfowl, wildlife and the environment.

For more information, please contact:

Gillian Potvin
g_potvin@ducks.ca
National Manager, Media Strategy
Ducks Unlimited Canada
Office: (204) 467-3202
Cell: (204) 792-3678