It is world water week, and in honour of this we have selected a photograph that represents the type of wetland western Canadians are most often familiar with. The infrared photograph of Thacker Marsh is a crisp and radiant example of the watery beauty at the confluence of the Fraser and the Coquihalla rivers. Marshes can often be found attached to rivers and open waters, and act as a transition between aquatic and terrestrial environments. Our selected photographer, Ferdinand Alcos, has made the connectivity of the earth, atmosphere and these vast aquatic systems very apparent in his vision of the marsh. This is one of the most productive forms of wetlands: high in nutrients, these ecosystems attract a wide variety of animals. Insects come to feed on the emergent vegetation and plankton, and the insects, in turn, draw a complex food chain of migrating birds and mammals.
Water is necessary for life: just think of how excited the media became when ice was found on the moon! A cold rock in space became just a little more livable. If we view our planet as a sophisitcated engine, it is easy to imagine how important the cycling of water is from the ocean through the atmosphere (through the large clouds we see in the image of Thacker Marsh) and down onto our landscape in the form of snow and rain. Precipitation renews the streams and lakes that support a complex web of life. It also percolates back into the groundwater which can recharge rivers and streams during periods of drought. Many communities in BC, including several in the Fraser Valley, rely on groundwater as their primary supply of water for domestic use, agriculture and industry. In keeping with our analogy of the earth as an engine, and water as our fuel, wetlands play a critical role as the filter: they remove all that nasty engine gunk! Runoff from roads and developed areas contains harmful pollutants that threaten the health of all lifeforms. When a wetland slows the flow of this polluted water, sediments are collected, toxins are broken down with the help of micro-organisms, and clean water rises to the surface to make its way downstream, evaporate back into a clean cycle, or is absorbed by plants, animals and the thirsty earth.