Do you know the difference between a bog and a fen? Can you tell what species of turtle is basking on a log in your backyard pond? Do you know what type of trees you usually find in a swamp? You can learn all of these things, and more by participating in the Wetland Watchers citizen science program with Turtle Guardians.
Wetlands are important ecosystems that seem to fly under the radar, and are not given the credit they deserve. They provide critical habitat to wildlife – 70% of Ontario’s wildlife use wetland habitat at some point in their life cycle! Wetlands also act as natural carbon sinks, soaking up atmospheric carbon in their wetland plants that is then trapped in peat when these plants only partially decompose and become part of the thick peat floor of a bog or fen.
Flood control is another handy service wetlands provide. Their water-logged soils and water-loving vegetation can naturally handle the ebb and flow of fluctuating water levels better than other areas (especially those highly modified by humans) that can be badly damaged by floods.
If you recall, the last two Turtle Guardians blog posts have been about wetland types that we find here in the Land Between: bogs, fens, swamps and marshes. We are super excited to be rolling out the Wetland Watchers citizen science program, because it will help you learn first-hand about these amazing ecosystems, and what type of plants and animals you can find in them.
The Wetland Watchers program gets you outside once a week, and guides you through the process of: selecting your own wetland, classifying your wetland, identifying turtles you find there and recording data about their behaviour and location. With the resources provided in your Wetland Watchers volunteer package you will also have the chance to learn about wetland plant species, and some rare wetland bird species to watch out for here in the Land Between.
Normally, we would be hosting in-person workshops to train our wetland watchers in wetland classification and turtle identification, but because of current restrictions we have instead turned to the wonderful world of online learning J. This is good news for people who would like to participate, because now you can learn all you need to know from the comfort of your own home on your computer. We have designed online workshops in webinar form that guide you through turtle identification in the Land Between, and explain how to survey your wetland and record your data. These materials are available for everyone for free on the Turtle Guardians website (https://www.turtleguardians.com/).
If you are unsure about committing to becoming a wetland watcher – you should still check out our species identification webinars to practice your Ontario turtle identification skills! There is a beginner-level general turtle ID webinar, and a more specific (and more advanced) wetland watchers turtle ID webinar where you have the chance to test your ID knowledge with some tricky turtle photos.
Currently, the Wetland Watchers program has to be done on your own property, because of COVID 19 restrictions. If you are interested in this program but do not have a wetland on your property, we still encourage you to complete the webinars and training. If restrictions are lifted later on this summer we might be able to launch this program outside of just your own property, because it can be done individually or with small groups from one household, and does not involve interacting with other members of the public.