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Stratford Area Watershed Improvement Group: A Glimpse into the Exciting World of Watersheds on Prince Edward Island

Saltwater Wetlands

Canada Goose (photo: The Owl's Monocle)

Canada Goose (photo: The Owl’s Monocle)

Although surrounded by water and beautiful coastlines, salt marshes are rare ecosystems on PEI; covering only 1-2% of the Island. A major biodiversity target, they are scattered across the province in small pockets. There is salt marsh within the watershed boundaries, some of which include Stewart’s Cove, Kinlock Creek, Burke’s Creek, Fullerton’s Creek and areas within Alexandra (Griffin, 2009). Salt marshes are among some of the most productive places in the world, as nutrients from salt marshes are transported by the tides and provide a food source for fish and shellfish.  Migrating shorebirds also occupy these areas; they are rich feeding grounds for species such as Canada Geese, Willet, Nelson’s Sharp-tailed sparrow, and Spotted Sandpiper.

Plants in a saltwater wetland have evolved mechanisms designed to cope with the influx of salt water, allowing several species to thrive in this tidal region; species can include Saltwater Cordgrass, Saltmarsh Bulrush, and Sweet Grass (Griffin, 2009). Salt marshes are also habitat for several species of fish, including Fundulus heteroclitus and smelts.

Tidal flats can be seen in all salt marshes in our region. “Mudflats are the first stage of development of salt marshes. (They) are composed of very fine sediment and…can extend out from the non-grassy areas of marshes where there is a large supply of sediments” (FAO, 2010). Historically, these have been areas of refuse dumping, and large amounts of glass can still be seen, especially in Stewart’s Cove salt marsh (Curley, 2011).

Salt marshes are beneficial to have in an urban area; every effort must be made to preserve these ecosystems for future generations of humans and wildlife. Changes at a municipal level are needed i.e. by-law creation to protect areas adjacent to salt marshes, and the development of new zoning regulations to prohibit development around or on

wetlands. Prince Edward Island has created a Wetland Policy (refer to this report’s methodology) to regulate the use and development of all lands in proximity of wetlands and buffer zones, thus are taking a strong role in ensuring there is no

Tidal Flats

Tidal Flats

net loss of wetlands within their town limits (Curley, 2011). Constant vigilance is required to ensure the provincial wetland policy is strictly followed. Additionally, there is a serious need to allow wetlands to migrate inland as sea level rise is having a dramatic effect on current salt marshes; otherwise, these marshes will disappear as the sea covers them.

Wetlands in urban areas are under extreme stress, even though they are prized for their recreational value. PEI wetlands were often seen as wasteland, and were infilled for residential and commercial development and agricultural activities. When wetlands disappear, the benefits derived from them are lost. In urban areas, wetland removal can result in problems with increased runoff after storms because the wetlands are no longer there to soak up storm water; this is often seen within the Town of Stratford. Additionally, salt marsh maintenance is considered a means of providing a buffer to coastal erosion, which is a concern.

Historically, salt marshes were used to gather mussel mud, but uses have grown to include recreational purposes, and remain vital ecosystems in need of preservation (Curley, 2011).

REFERENCES

Curley, R. (2011). Personal Communication.

Curley, R. (2012). Personal Communication.

Griffin, D.F. (2009). PEI Coastal and Forest Natural Area Conservation Plan. Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Town of Stratford. (2011). Stratford Natural Heritage Study. Available at the Stratford Town Hall or at www.townofstratford.ca

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