Le centre des terres humides Tantramar inc. : un centre d'excellence en éducation sur les terres humides

Depuis toujours, les terres humides ont été synonymes de terres à l'abandon, elles furent irriguées, drainées, endiguées et remplies. L'auteure Nancy MacKinnon explique que la confiance que l'éducation mettrait fin à cette parodie a abouti à un partenariat qui a créé le Centre des terres humides Tantramar. En réalité, les terres humides nettoient et filtrent l'eau de la planète. Leur biodiversité est extrême. Et, ce sont des endroits très intéressants et instructifs!

Le centre des terres humides Tantramar est situé au bord des terres humides de Tantramar, et il présente un programme d'éducation à plus de 4200 visiteurs par année. Les visiteurs peuvent prendre des échantillons de macroinvertébrés, compter les abris de rat musqué, collecter des échantillons d'eau, analyser la chimie de l'eau et plus encore. Avez-vous envie d'y aller à votre tour?


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The Tantramar Wetlands Centre Inc.: 
A Centre of Excellence in Wetlands Education 

Nancy MacKinnon
Tantramar Wetlands Centre
November 2008

hroughout the ages, wetlands have been synonymous with wastelands. Thought to be sources of disease, unpleasant odours, flies, and mosquitoes, wetlands were considered mysterious places where strange lights glowed at night, people and animals were lost to never be seen again, and strange and mysterious vapours emerged.

As a result of their maligned reputation and society's lack of understanding about their true value, wetlands were ditched, drained, dyked, and filled-in. This enabled the rich soil they harboured and their flat, treeless expanse to be utilized for something profitable, such as new farmland, a dump for household and industrial waste, or a site for house or industrial plant construction. In fact, this effort to destroy wetlands has been very successful. Approximately 65% of coastal wetlands and 50% of fresh water wetlands in Atlantic Canada have been destroyed or altered, and the destruction continues.

Young visitors enjoy touch boxes at TWC.
(Photo: Nancy MacKinnon)

This rampant wetland destruction, and the belief that education would end this travesty, led to the partnership between Environment Canada-Canadian Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited Canada, the Town of Sackville, School District 2, and Tantramar Regional High School that created the Tantramar Wetlands Centre (TWC). TWC has a mandate to clear up damaging misconceptions about wetlands and to reveal to visiting students the importance of wetland conservation through experiential wetland education programs.

As our knowledge and understanding of ecological processes have increased, the true value of wetlands has emerged. In reality, wetlands are the "kidneys" of the earth. They perform a myriad of cleansing functions on the planet's water. Wetlands filter and strain debris, remove and neutralize toxins, prevent floods, purify drinking water, are nurseries for young animals, are home to endangered species, provide resting and refueling stations for migrating birds, prevent erosion by slowing water flow, and much more. They are second only to tropical rain forests in the great variety of life they support. They are also great places to visit, in which to canoe, take photographs, and learn about nature. They also support traditional activities such as hunting, fishing, and trapping.

The very nature of wetlands lends themselves to being an exceptional educational tool. Wetlands are found in most communities. According to Statistics Canada, 14% of Canada's total land mass is wetland and 25% of the earth's wetlands are in Canada. By that statistic alone, most schools should be located within close proximity of a wetland, be it a pond, marsh, fen, bog, or swamp. The abundance and diversity of wetlands makes them one of the most easily accessible ecosystems for study.

A class visits TWC.
(Photo: Nancy MacKinnon)

Wetlands are usually shallow. They are a transition between land and water and the area along the shoreline makes an excellent outdoor classroom. During the spring, summer, and fall, one can examine wetlands with simple equipment such as rubber boots for wading and aquarium dip nets and plastic margarine or yogurt containers for collecting invertebrates, stickleback fish, and plants that thrive in the rich, warm water along the shore. The daily activities of larger animals such as a diversity of waterfowl, shorebirds, and muskrats can be viewed with binoculars by a silent observer.

Wetlands are the second most biodiverse ecosystem on the planet. Every child will have success at finding living organisms in a wetland because life abounds in these fragile ecosystems. From baby dragonflies or nymphs to leeches to caddisfly larvae in their houses of twigs, pebbles, and seeds, the variety of animal life found captures the attention of young and old alike. Their imaginations are caught by the stories about these critters' adaptations for survival in a watery world.

Wetland plants have unique adaptations not found in upland plants. Carnivorous plants are adapted to capture and digest insects and other organisms for nutrition. A hand lens will reveal the floating insects in a pitcher plant's reservoir of rainwater and digestive juices, the sticky drops on a sundew for capturing insects, and the inward opening of the trap door on a bladderwort's bladder. Floating mats of cattails have spongy stems and leaves with air spaces that keep the plant aerated. Horsetails are the tiny remnants of trees of the ancient coal forests whose ancestors reveal their true size in calamites fossils.

Looking for critters at TWC.
(Photo: Nancy MacKinnon)

Freshwater wetlands have still waters or gentle currents that make them ideal for wading or exploring by canoe.

Wetlands are homes to species at risk as listed by The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. These species are often endangered because their habitat is being destroyed or altered in such a way by human activity that they can no longer live there. Least Bittern and American Eel are two such species often seen in or near our New Brunswick wetlands.

Located on the edge of the provincially significant and world famous Tantramar Marshes, the Tantramar Wetlands Centre is an award winning Centre of Excellence in Wetland Education that presents wetland education programming to more than 4200 visitors annually. Nothing beats the experiential approach to outdoor education - especially when it comes to wetland education - and this is the approach employed by the Tantramar Wetlands Centre. From macroinvertebrate sampling, counting muskrat houses, collecting water samples, performing water chemistry tests, banding waterfowl, snowshoeing, or looking for animal sign on a frozen marsh to conducting breeding bird and brood surveys, visitors have the opportunity to learn by doing and participate in authentic activities that scientists would employ to monitor and collect data when determining the health of a wetland.

Making bird boxes at TWC.
(Photo: Nancy MacKinnon)

The jewel of the Tantramar Wetlands Centre is the 15 hectare freshwater marsh, reclaimed from an abandoned hayfield, with fully accessible trails around and through the diversity of habitat. Just steps away, and housed within Tantramar Regional High School, is the "Wetlab" which comprises a fully wired theatre that seats 35, a classroom/conference room and a laboratory that allows components of the wetland to be brought inside for closer examination.

The Tantramar Wetlands Centre is staffed by a full-time wildlife biologist, a director, and student volunteers from TRHS who are called the "Wetheads". These enthusiastic program presenters are the key behind the success of the Tantramar Wetlands Centre. The "kids teaching kids" philosophy works on all levels. Adults are impressed by the knowledge and enthusiasm of the youth. Younger students are in awe because high school students are so cool and thus whatever they say is absorbed and retained.

As soon as students arrive at TWC, their senses are fully engaged with the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of a freshwater marsh. The rubber-boots, hands-on, innovative education programs they participate in during their visits capture their imaginations and hearts so that they leave with lasting, positive impressions concerning wetlands that we are already seeing pay dividends in wetland conservation.

For information on our programs, visit our website or email us.