Lena Gallant takes a moment out of her busy day as the sole full-time staffer at the Tantramar Wetlands Centre, located in Sackville, N.B., close to where she grew up. Over a video call, she chats about her journey to and from the place that’s become her “second home.”
Conservator readers may recall Gallant from a 2020 article recognizing her as one of the first recipients of Ducks Unlimited Canada’s (DUC) 2020 Wetland Centres of Excellence scholarship. Winning that scholarship helped Gallant continue her post-secondary education at Acadia University, where she studied biology with an emphasis on wildlife behaviour, ecology and conservation.
Now, with a bachelor of science degree as the latest feather in her cap, she’s working to bridge the knowledge gaps between people and nature through environmental education at Tantramar Wetlands Centre and surrounding wetlands. Because it was here that she found her true calling.
DUC restored the educational wetlands at the DUC-partnered Tantramar Wetland Centre of Excellence (WCE) at Tantramar Regional High School and at nearby Salem Elementary School, where Gallant experienced one of her earliest memories.
“I loved animals and plants early on and remember going to the marshes in Grade One and enjoying the ‘critter dipping,’” says Gallant.
As a high school student, she participated in the Tantramar WCE program, volunteered at the Tantramar Wetlands Centre starting in the ninth grade, and obtained a student co-op placement there.
“I participated in research projects like waterfowl banding, macroinvertebrate surveys, and invasive purple loosestrife monitoring, to name a few,” she says, adding that every experience helped her gain further skills and confidence in public speaking and presenting to groups.
For Gallant, it was a formative time. “Something just shifted for me and that’s when I decided to go to university.”
Now that she’s back at the Centre — this time as an employee — Gallant can continue to share her passion for nature with visitors of all ages. For her, there’s no better place to do that than in wetlands.
Wetlands are alive. It’s easy to observe all the bugs and plants, and see the animals in air and the water. I love watching people get excited and make connections. I know that this knowledge helps create a better understanding and respect for wetlands and other ecosystems.
Hands-on learning, adds Gallant, “is the most effective way to instill passion and understanding that will lead to people forming values based around the health of the environment. I really feel like it makes a difference.”
Our conversation wraps up so Gallant can prepare for the next field trip of teachers and students set to arrive later that day. With any luck, they’ll be as inspired by the wetland training grounds as Gallant and other youth that came before them. This includes Tantramar WCE alum and 2022 DUC scholarship winner Anneke Harpur, who is working alongside Gallant as a summer student this year.
Before she bids us farewell, Gallant leaves budding conservationists with simple parting words of advice: “do what you love.”
Sounds like a voice of experience we can all learn from.
“Crown jewel” wetlands foster wildlife, community and future conservation leaders
In November 2022, The Convention on Wetlands named the town of Sackville, N.B., an accredited Wetland City at COP14 in Geneva, Switzerland for its “exceptional efforts to safeguard urban wetlands for people and nature.” It’s the first municipality in North America to receive this accreditation since the convention launched the award in 2015.
Sackville is surrounded by Tantramar Marsh wetlands, grasslands and salt marshes, from the Bay of Fundy in the west to High Marsh Road in the east, and beyond.
The town’s self-proclaimed “crown jewel” is Sackville Waterfowl Park, where visitors can follow boardwalks through open-water marsh and stands of white birch, watching for birds like Virginia rails, gadwalls, and the occasional ruddy duck. DUC restored this beloved marsh in 1988 after advocates convinced town council that a wetland park in the heart of the town could be the key to sparking a new wave of tourism.
Like Lena Gallant, DUC’s manager of provincial operations for Atlantic Canada, Adam Campbell, grew up around the Tantramar Marshes. “It was an amazing place for a kid who loved wildlife,” says Campbell. “In Sackville, conservation isn’t just a concept. It’s the culture. You are immersed in the magic of wetlands daily which instills a deep appreciation of all the benefits they provide. Benefits worthy of a lifelong pursuit to protect them.”
About Wetland Centres of Excellence
DUC Wetland Centres of Excellence are schools and community partners that deliver hands-on wetland learning and student-led conservation projects. Learn how the program is empowering students to become the conservation leaders of tomorrow: wce-education.ducks.ca
Tantramar Wetlands Centre is DUC’s first Wetland Centre of Excellence in Canada. In 1997, student leaders (now affectionately known as “Wetheads”) from Tantramar Regional High School assisted DUC in the construction of a freshwater wetland on the school’s property. This wetland restoration is the centrepiece of 50 acres (20 hectares) of wildlife habitat being restored and managed as an outdoor classroom by the Centre.