Wetlands are a crucial environment — especially in Calgary, which often experiences floods. Despite this, wetland areas are decreasing in the city and throughout Canada. Researchers discuss why the ecosystem is so vital. PRODUCER: ANOSHA KHAN

Wetlands are vital for animals and people alike, but they are continuing to vanish at alarming rates across the city despite their benefits.

And while they are home to many plant, amphibian and migratory bird species, biodiversity isn’t the only reason wetlands are important. 

“They are particularly important in urban areas,” says Nicole Kahal, a conservation analyst at the Mistakiis Institute, a research centre that works to resolve environmental issues. 

Speakers at the World Wetland Day event at Mount Royal University last winter stressed their importance to biodiversity

Despite the essential role that this ecosystem plays, the city keeps losing them. 

“Calgary continues to lose wetlands to development every year despite having a no wetlands loss policy,” Kahal says.

“A lot of our wetlands are not managed in a way that supports biodiversity.” 

According to the city, up to 90 per cent of wetlands have been lost in settled areas of Calgary.

Throughout Canada, 70 per cent of overall wetland areas have been lost in settled areas according to Ducks Unlimited, an organization that focuses on preserving wetlands. 

“Wetlands are key to ensuring that Calgary stays resilient in the face of a changing climate,” says Kahal. 

“It is essential to keep wetlands within our city limits if we want to better withstand things like floods and droughts.” 

A local wetland in the summer. PHOTO: ANOSHA KHAN

Wetlands also help store and purify water, remove contaminants like pollutants and heavy metals and can act as fireguards. 

“We expect extreme weather events will be on the rise … which is why it’s important to conserve and retain our wetlands,” says Carolyn Campbell, a specialist at the Alberta Wilderness Association. 

“They are important for storing many metres of carbon, so what we don’t want to happen [is] there is too much disturbance.”  

“Wetlands are key to ensuring that Calgary stays resilient in the face of a changing climate.”

NICOLE KAHAL, MISTAKIIS INSTITITE 

Water quality is a concern for many as well, and another aspect that is enhanced by the existence and productivity of wetlands.

“Calgarians really love the Bow and the Elbow River. If we can put more wetlands between our stormwater running off and actually reaching the river, that would be a real benefit for water quality,” says Campbell. 

Carolyn Campbell of the Alberta Wilderness Association has worked at the grassroots level as well as industry and government to tackle wetland issues. PHOTO: ANOSHA KHAN

The wilderness association has helped to restore wetlands by planting shrubs, taking measures to avoid erosion around wetland areas and trying to improve the vegetation around lakes. 

“We need to keep reminding people of how important wetlands are.”