At the heart of Durham, wetlands ecology

Nature doesn’t heal itself and conservation groups such as Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority and Ducks Unlimited are working to undo the effects of a constantly changing ecology and invasive species on wetlands in Durham Region.

From Second Marsh in southeastern Oshawa to the Lynde Shores Conservation Area in Whitby to Bowmanville Marsh, coastal wetland environments are a significant part of the ecological makeup of Durham.

The Durham Wetland Coastal Monitoring Program is now more than 15 years old. The project monitors the health of wetlands in Durham, focusing on amphibians, birds, submerged aquatic vegetation and water quality.

Data from the program paints the picture of the overall health of the coastal wetlands that are important ecologically for Durham.

We monitor them every single year, and those results now that we have 15 plus years of monitoring information is allowing us to assess the health of those wetlands and to establish what needs to be restored because different wetlands need different things,” said Heather Brooks, director of Watershed Planning and Natural Heritage at the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority (CLOCA).

CLOCA not only monitors the coastal wetlands and other conservation areas within Durham but also works on the restoration of damaged wetlands, and on the maintenance of wetlands in good health.

In September of 1999, Cranberry Marsh in the Lynde Shores Conservation Area was identified as one of the coastal wetlands in poor health. Thanks to the efforts of the CLOCA, the marsh is now in much better ecological health, according to Brooks.

Many migratory birds use the coastal wetlands as transition home on their journeys. Having a healthy wetland ecology is important if the migratory birds are to continue returning,says Brooks.

The coastal wetlands are significant migratory passovers where the birds come over Lake Ontario and they drop into these areas. They provide them the refuge to hide, to get the reserves back up, to eat and drink again before they take off for their northern extremes or southern extremes, so it’s providing that habitat that is so essential to those migratory birds,” said Brooks.

Working with CLOCA, Ducks Unlimited also has a hand in the preservation, maintenance, and restoration of wetlands in Durham. Every year there are new projects, ranging from small endeavours to larger scale efforts.

“We have about 40 existing projects in Durham Region, and they range from large water management (projects), coastal wetlands like Oshawa’s Second Marsh… to small projects inland, and up to Lake Simcoe,” said Erling Armson, Ducks Unlimited biologist and Head of Invasives and Northern Programs.

In addition to land use pressures, such as urbanization, wetlands also face another serious threat to their continued health and existence, invasive species.

One of the familiar invasive species you may be aware of is phragmites, also known as common reed. A tall grassy plant with plumes of seeds at the top, it can be seen growing in ditches along highways in Southern Ontario, but it has also made its home in wetlands throughout Durham, according to Armson.

“It’s impacting wetlands significantly, especially coastal wetlands along southern Ontario, so we’re looking at better ways to control and eradicate phragmites… in large patches it’s virtually impossible to remove manually,” said Armson.

The health of Durham wetlands depends on the work of groups like CLOCA and Ducks Unlimited. A variety of species of both plants and animals depend on them, and conservancy groups are on the front lines restoring and defending them.

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James Bauman is a second-year journalism student at Durham College. He enjoys writing about sports, arts, and culture for The Chronicle. James is a former three sport athlete who can be found on the links during his downtime. He hopes to cover sports for a daily publication, and eventually to work as a sports columnist.