DUC is proud to name Chloe, Neha, and Mabel from Holy Trinity School as this year’s Youth Wetland Experts. Last month, the team won the national Wetland Centres of Excellence case study competition, earning the highest score among finalists from seven schools.
The case study competition was a two-week event that saw Wetland Centres of Excellence students from across Canada research a conservation problem and present their solution to a panel of science experts. Students had the option of examining pothole wetlands and biodiversity in the Prairie Pothole Region or salt marshes and sea-level rise in Atlantic Canada.
“I think I can speak for everyone when I say we were nervous,” says Chloe. “I knew we were going to have to put in a lot of work.”
The team decided to tackle the sea-level rise case study over the biodiversity case study.
“We chose the sea-level rise case study because it focused on finding a real-world solution,” says Neha. “We all agreed that we wanted that challenge.”
Their chosen case study challenged them to answer the question: to adapt to sea-level rise in Atlantic Canada, will they choose to restore salt marshes or improve dikes?
We chose the sea-level rise case study because it focused on finding a real-world solution. We all agreed that we wanted that challenge.
Exploring Atlantic Canada
The team quickly got to work researching sea-level rise, salt marshes, dikes, and the pros and cons of each. For students from a school located north of Toronto, it meant learning about region-specific information that was new to them. But that’s what made it exciting.
“It was really interesting to explore Atlantic Canada,” says Mabel. “I loved learning about all the benefits that salt marshes are able to bring.”
“My favourite fact that I learned was that 70 per cent of dikes in Nova Scotia are vulnerable,” says Neha. “That put everything in perspective for me and made me realize it’s a real problem.”
Before they could compete at the national level, they had to earn the highest score in their class. It was stiff competition, but they had the winning solution for sea-level rise. They chose to restore salt marshes to improve wastewater and stormwater management, thereby reducing runoff. In their solution, they suggested adding mussels to cordgrass to increase restoration success.
“Salt marsh restoration isn’t always 100 per cent successful,” says Chloe. “But mussels increase nutrients and reduce sulphide stress for cordgrass, so it can grow and expand within the habitat and protect the coast from erosion.”
Chloe goes on to explain that they specifically chose mussels and cordgrass because they are native to salt marshes. That would lead to a lower cost of maintaining the marsh in the long term.
Working hard for these two weeks and learning everything we did, it was very rewarding. I’m really proud of us.
Gearing up for competition day
The team practiced for hours leading up to the day of the competition. That meant a lot of time working outside of school and getting together for early-morning and late-night Zoom calls.
“Thankfully, one of our strengths is that we are very persistent,” says Mabel. “We prioritized getting together and made sure we were practicing a lot.”
Their persistence paid off. The judges were impressed with their preparedness and the creativity of their solution.
“They delivered a well-researched and well-thought-out presentation,” says Adam Campbell, head of conservation delivery for DUC in Atlantic Canada and one of the case study competition judges. “I was most impressed with their idea to incorporate biota with vegetation to increase restoration success.”
When the team learned about their victory, they were shocked and excited. Their teacher, Cheryl Savage, shared in their excitement.
“I am so proud of the girls,” says Savage. “It is fair to say that none of my students knew anything about saltwater marshes and their role in managing sea-level rise, but Mabel, Chloe, and Neha are diligent and driven students who never tackle anything at less than 100 per cent.”
“Working hard for these two weeks and learning everything we did, it was very rewarding,” says Chloe. “I’m really proud of us.”
We worked hard and it paid off. It shows that you can accomplish anything with a lot of hard work.