Imagine learning in a space where you’re greeted by the melody of bird songs as you feel the warmth of a rising sun and the breeze of fresh, crisp air. Well that was how I spent my last Saturday of February, where I had the pleasure to attend my first BC Wildlife Federation Wetlands Education Program (WEP) Workshop – Map our Marshes – at Burnaby Lake Regional Park. After volunteering as a Creative Communication’s Intern for the past year with the WEP Program, at last the timing and location of the workshop was right for my busy schedule to join a group of 18 enthusiastic participants, as we learned the basics of GPS technology and how we can apply them to wetland conservation in British Columbia.
When I think of GPS units I usually think of those omniscient car devices that attempt to guide us through traffic without getting us lost (although their success is often debatable). But GPS units are much more diverse and have an unprecedented impact on many aspects of science and technology. GPS – which stands for Global Position Systems – uses three parts: The space segment, the control segment and the user segment (shown in the image on the right). The space segment produces a detailed grid on a global scale, shrinking the space of geo-location. Although GPS’ are commonly found in the cars of today, its quick, large scale precision allows for a broad range of applications.
So why would we have spent our Saturday playing with these little hand-held devices as we teetered around the perimeter of a marsh, with each step leading to a possible full-body soak? Well, you can’t care about wetlands if you don’t know they exist, and can’t manage for issues such as invasive species or habitat degradation if you haven’t explored your wetland sites. Although many wetlands have been recorded through GPS and other technologies, the majority of small wetlands are monitored through remote sensing technologies such as airphotos or satellite imagery. So, for example, many wetlands that are located underneath forest canopies go unnoticed due to the coverage of the vegetation. But we know they exist and that’s why we enjoy working with the chance of getting drenched. It’s efforts like Map our Marshes projects that are necessary to gain information and communicate for a cause that cannot speak for itself.
Our training ground was a swath of marsh and swamp habitat just outside the Nature Centre on the north shore of Burnaby Lake. Dozens of wood duck and swallow boxes emerge from the reeds at this location as the Burnaby Lake Park Association operate a nest box program at this site (Watch my video about their Nest Box Program). The stunning size of the lake, nestled within a very urban watershed, allows for multiple interests to utilize the lake, from dog walkers to competitive rowers. Since Burnaby Lake is surrounded by urban, industrial and commercial properties, the surrounding streams dump high levels of nutrients and toxic chemicals (such as heavy metals) into it’s waters which get trapped in sediments. Beginning in 2010, a $20.5-million dredging project removed 180,000 cubic metres of sediment from the lake. What made this a delicate endeavour was that Burnaby Lake is the home to endangered Western Painted Turtles, who were active at the time of the dredging. Although the project was completed in 2011, the dredging was delayed seven months in order to learn more about how the turtles were moving throughout the lake and how to minimize impacts to them.
The BCWF Wetlands Education Program hosts a on-line and interactive BC Wetlands Atlas on the Community Mapping Network, as a citizen science approach to promoting wetlands awareness and protection. Events like Map our Marshes are used to encourage growth in our wetland database and we hope all of our participants consider making future contributions to this conservation initiative. For photos of our day, click here.
Environmental stances like these are only enhanced through citizen science projects and if you’d like to get involved in our next event, please check out our upcoming events! If you’re just looking to chat about wetlands then like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or leave us a comment! Special thanks to the Burnaby Lake Park Association for co-hosting this event with us! This workshop would not be possible without the financial support provided by: the Province of BC, Wildlife Habitat Canada, Environment Canada, and Shell.