Waterloo Wetland Cleanup mobilizes community

Thursday, November 10, 2022
Group photo of participants with pile of bagged garbage.

Yesterday, biologist Dr. Rebecca Rooney and her Waterloo Wetland Lab organized a successful wetland information session and clean-up event. The event took place at a small but highly visible urban wetland at the corner of Columbia and Fisher-Hallman roads in Waterloo, that has collected a large amount of unwelcomed litter.

More than 35 volunteers rolled up their sleeves to clean the wetland and raise awareness on the value of wetlands and the threats facing them.

Thanks to the efforts of faculty, students and community members, the group pulled 18 bags of garbage from the persistently littered wetland that contained an assortment of plastic bags, bottles, beer cans, chip bags and candy wrappers. It was a full load for the F150 Wetland Ecology truck that properly disposed of the trash.

To start the day Rooney and her master's student, Claire Schon, talked about the importance of wetlands. Despite the high number of invasive plant species (including European Common Reed and Purple Loosestrife) in this particular wetland, it still helps mitigate flooding, trap carbon, provide habitat for plant and animal species as well as filter water.

This site is a classic example of an urban “workhorse” wetland plagued by invasive species and choked with litter. Schon, from the Department of Biology, has been conducting research at the wetland to measure the efficacy of a new biocontrol technique where moths have been released to help control the Common Reed, one of the first 10 biocontrol release sites in North America.

“Too often wetlands like this one are dismissed as low value because they are littered with trash and invasive species.  I’ve seen them called “ecological deserts,” but they are far from it,” said Rooney.

handful of soil

These wetlands are key green spaces in urban areas, providing some of the only semi-aquatic habitats available.  Students have seen snapping turtles, heard frogs chorusing in the spring and observed many birds using the wetland. It is full of invasive species and trash, but still full of life. 

Urban wetlands like this are climate change superheroes trapping and storing carbon in their soils and keeping it out of the atmosphere. They also provide invaluable ecosystem services such as holding back floodwaters and purifying water. 

Some of the rich soil on the site, full of organic carbon. Photo credit Megan Jordan.

Rooney feels strongly that protecting wetlands is key to both mitigating climate change and adapting to it and cautioned against proposed changes to Provincial policy that may encourage development in these areas.

Learn more at Save Ontario Wetlandsa grassroots campaign started by wetland ecologists.