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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

NCC to create a 62-acre wetland on Pelee Island

 - This is its largest wetland restoration project in Ontario -

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is looking to undertake a large-scale, multi-year restoration project on Pelee Island in Lake Erie. The announcement of the project was made last week. 

Over the next few years, the national land conservation organization will create a substantial 62-acre (25-hectare) wetland, restore 20 acres (eight hectares) of native meadow, tackle invasive phragmites, and create new trails and signage to welcome island visitors and the local community.

  Drained in the late 1800s, this former marsh once sheltered migratory songbirds and waterfowl.

  Jill Crosthwaite, Coordinator of Conservation Biology for Southwestern Ontario, said NCC has been involved with Pelee Island since the late 1990s. The island, she said, has great biodiversity, and, as a result, is a hot spot for birding.

  When complete, the wetland will also support migratory shorebirds, such as semipalmated plover and spotted sandpipers, turtles, salamanders, and a multitude of other species. The wetland will also provide critically important water retention, filtration, and flood mitigation.

“Wetlands play an important role in the health of our country and our communities. They play a critical role in absorbing and storing carbon pollution,” Julie Vasseur, said, who is the Acting Program Director for Southwestern Ontario, for the non-profit. They also remove sediments, excess nutrients, and even bacteria from our drinking water. Like a giant sponge, they absorb and hold water to buffer our cities and farms from floods and droughts – both of which are growing more common and extreme in recent years.”

  It’s estimated that 64 percent of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900. In the last 50 years, our planet’s inland and coastal wetlands have declined by over one-third where data is available. From providing ecological services such as flood control and carbon storage to food production, wetlands play a vital role.

  Almost 10 years ago, NCC began to transform former agricultural fields into thriving native meadows and small wetlands. In many places, these marginal agricultural lands were already quite wet — a clear sign to conservation staff that they were once wetlands. Now restored, they are teeming with wildlife, including species at risk, such as monarchs and snapping turtles.

  “This project is a huge undertaking, but an important one,” Vasseur said. “Creating the wetland is on top of our annual management, native seed collections, and invasive species removal. We urgently need to raise $450,000 to be able to start this spring.”

  The most southerly inhabited part of Canada, Pelee Island supports a high density of rare and at-risk species, including monarch, gray fox, yellow-breasted chat, blue ash, Lake Erie watersnake, and blue racer snake. Some of these species are at the northern edge of their range, meaning that in Canada, they are only found on Pelee Island.

  To date, NCC has conserved over 1,000 acres (390 hectares) of globally rare shoreline, alvar and forest habitat, representing more than 10 percent of the island.

  Crosthwaite is excited for the project to get underway to provide habitat for wildlife and provide a spot for individuals to view nature so it can be appreciated.

“It really is a special place,” she said of Pelee Island.

The NCC, Crosthwaite said, has put in for a couple of grants to support the program, and is hopeful to get some funding. In the meantime, it will be looking to work with other foundations and individuals to complete this massive project, and has approached those that may be interested.

As an organization, Crosthwaite said, NCC acquires land for conservation, and sometimes helps other organizations do the same.


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