Natural defence against natural disasters

World Wetlands Day focuses on conservation that minimizes nature’s extremes

February 01, 2017
Natural defence against natural disasters

Unprecedented. Extraordinary. Historic. Words like these were once reserved for the rarest of weather events. Today, we’re hearing them more often as the rare becomes the regular.

Case in point: when flooding hit the Canadian Prairies in 2014, the excess water devastated rural communities. Then, severe drought challenged some of those same communities the next year.

“It used to be rare to see these events piggybacking each other so quickly,” says Pascal Badiou, PhD, a research scientist with DUC’s Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research. Badiou is leading several studies that examine the impacts of wetland loss in Canada, particularly on the Prairies.

Badiou views this more frequent cycling between droughts and floods as symptomatic of climate change. And a growing body of research, including his own, shows wetlands are the frontlines of defense against these kind of disasters.

It’s knowledge like this that inspired the 2017 theme for World Wetlands Day – “Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction.” Celebrated annually on February 2, the global event emphasizes how everyone benefits from healthy wetlands.

Research shows that wetlands can reduce the severity of flooding and drought, holding excess water during wet periods and slowly releasing it during dry periods. They also store carbon and provide essential habitat for migratory and threatened species. Wetlands are essential to Canada’s fresh water too, filtering out pollutants to protect water quality.

Even though wetland conservation is important for the health and safety of all Canadians, we continue to lose wetlands to unsustainable development. Conservation organizations are working hard to reverse this trend. By securing and restoring wetlands, influencing policy, sharing knowledge and spearheading groundbreaking research, DUC is leading the way in protecting the wetlands that reduce our risk of suffering more natural disasters.

About World Wetlands Day: February 2 marks the adoption of the Convention of Wetlands, which took place in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar. It’s a treaty negotiated by countries and non-governmental organizations, which provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands. Canada is one of the treaty’s 169 contracting parties and currently has 37 designated Ramsar sites. Of these, 17 are national wildlife areas or migratory bird sanctuaries.