From farmland to wetland: restoring Pelee Island

If the nature conservancy has its way, a big chunk of Pelee Island is going to look a little different.

A lot of the wetlands were lost when the drainage canals were put in

The Nature Conservancy of Canada hopes to restore acres of farmland to wetlands. (Colin Côté-Paulette/CBC)

If the nature conservancy has its way, a big chunk of Pelee Island is going to look a little different.

When drainage canals were installed on the Island, it made the land better for farming — so that's what people did. Now, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) hopes to turn the acreage back into wetlands.

The wetlands are extremely important for bird migrations, said the NCC, who hopes to restore a portion of the island as a sanctuary for birds.

This project NCC is looking at involve transforming roughly 24 hectares of land. (Bob Becken/CBC)

"We used to think of [wetlands] as a wasteland, but [wetlands] are so much more than that," said Julie Vasseur, acting program director at NCC. 

Vasseur said it's really important to have wetlands as part of the Pelee Island landscape. A lot of the wetlands were lost when the drainage canals were put in. 

What wetlands do:

  • Act as homes for plants, animals, birds.
  • House bacteria that clean and filter water.
  • Reduce flooding by acting like a big sponge.
  • Absorb and store excess water.
  • Minimize droughts by releasing water they've stored back into surrounding areas.

The NCC has conserved about 405 hectares (1,000 acres) of shoreline, alvar and forest habitat on Pelee Island since the 1990s.

Vasseur said some of the wetlands projects they've already done are much smaller, at around 0.6 or 0.8 hectares (one or two acres), but she is looking forward to getting started on the newest project.

Before the restoration, the farmland were already quite wet, "a clear sign to conservation staff that they were once wetlands," NCC said. 

Wetlands, like ones at Point Pelee, are home to thousands of different plant and animal species. (Bob Becken/CBC)

Vasseur said the conservancy is looking at "between 60 and 70 acres for this project. 

"It was one of the actions we had identified, one we'd decided needed to be done. It's been sitting on the list."

"Because islands tend to be distinct, we pull native seed sources right from the island itself," she explained the process of creating new wetland areas.

Funding for this project is coming from the Species at Risk fund, a grant program the NCC applied for in order to build the plan — now they have to fundraise in order to start the next phase.

They've applied for various sources of funding and it might be a multi-year project depending on how the funding trickles in.

The aim is to break ground this summer. 

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