Scientific experts gather at UW for World Wetlands Day

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UW’s Ecohydrology Research Group hosted a variety of wetland-related seminars at the Davis Centre Jan. 31, as part of honouring the Ramsar Convention of 1971, a treaty signed in Ramsar, Iran, which internationally recognized the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands.

Some of the speakers included Mike Waddington from McMaster University’s School of Geography and Earth Sciences, who shared his research on peatlands, which are vulnerable to hydrological changes. Waddington said that wildfires, drought, and resource extraction can change peatlands from their usual wet and cool state, to burning carbon dioxide deposits.

“When we decrease our water table and make it drier, we increase the amount of aeration, tree growth, and evapotranspiration, all these things pointing to the winning conditions for increasing the severity of fire on the landscape,” said Waddington. 

Also speaking at the event was Sheldon Smith from Stantec Inc., who spoke about engineered wetlands and their ability to remove contaminants, and UW’s Prof. Prateep Nayak, whose lecture focused on social-ecological systems, and the marginalization of the people of India’s Chilika Lagoon. 

Nayak is from UW’s School of Environment, Enterprise, and Development, and has spent time researching the effects of resource depletion in the Chilika Lagoon, and how industry such as aquaculture has caused locals to migrate elsewhere for work from what was once a prosperous area for fishing villages. He also said that legislative policy might help in prevent the lagoon from becoming depleted, which would prevent the marginalization of locals who depend on it for their livelihood. 

“We have a lot to learn in terms of what policies we need to make, how we can help people who live with the resources leave it in a better way, because their culture, their identity, [and] their well-being depends on those resources. So instead of taking away their rights, access, and well-being, we should help them through our policy, through our actions, to help them sustain those lifestyles,” said Nayak.

The social-ecological problems happening in the Chilika Lagoon are not rare to other parts of the world. As the demand for resources increases, so does the need for exploration. Protests from the Elisipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick last fall reminds us that our own indigenous communities feel threatened by big companies encroaching on territorial land. 

“It is no different from what is happening in other parts of the world including Canada,” Nayak said. “You can take an example of our First Nations people and their struggle with retaining their inherent rights and access to land, and their lifestyles which are surrounded by nature, and their well-being, which primarily, to their understanding, results from the well being of the nature itself.”

Other presentations were given by UW professors, as well as Faisal Moola from the David Suzuki Foundation, and Kevin Rich from Ducks Unlimited Canada. 

For webcasts of the presentations and discussions you can visit www.uwaterloo.ca/ecohydrology/wwd.

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