World Wetlands Day 2011

February 2nd  is always World Wetlands Day. It was Wednesday of last week.

Wetlands hold a special place in my heart. My first introduction to a wetland came when I was in 5th grade. I had just moved, that fall, from Arizona to a small town north of Boston. In the spring my 5th grade class took a field trip to a local pond. There, guided by an Audubon volunteer, my class and I explored the edges of the pond. Using nets made of strong wire coat hangers and discarded panty hose we caught tiny fish, tadpoles, and assorted insect larva including the amazing caddis fly larva. Caddis fly larva are amazing because they construct a little house of sand and sticks that provides hiding a place from which to hunt and to avoid being lunch. We got wet and muddy and I, at least, fell in love with little ponds.

I am sure that there was some science concept that I was supposed to learn. I have no idea what it might have been. I learned no ecology that I could have named for a test. I don’t even recall hearing the word ecology before high school and the first Earth Day celebrations. I couldn’t remember that the caddis fly was a caddis fly until much later. At that time it was the funny little worm with a stick and stone house. I also remember the green of the pond sides and the mush of the pond bottom. Being in New England, there was a lot of the pond bottom that was sandy. What lived in the sandy bits was different from what lived in the mucky bits. These are the things I remember. And, of course, I remember falling in love. You always remember your first love.

Many years later I learned how important wetlands were for other reasons. I learned about the fact that they are the world’s nurseries. Many fish, insects and birds get their start in or near a wetland. The calm, warm, sheltered waters provide protection and food for young. All life sprang from the water in the beginning and much of life still gets its start there. I learned that wetlands are important for filtering water and holding a lot of the chemical runoff from our modern life. I learned that wetlands slow water and spread it out reducing the impacts from floods and hurricanes. All of these facts simply confirmed what I learned as a 5th grader, that wetlands are precious.

As a 5th grader I knew wetlands were precious because I loved them and their critters–even the funny little worm that made a house–for themselves. I still do. But I also know that wetlands are vital to us as people. If we want a healthy, diverse planet, we need to protect our wetlands. If we want clean, clear drinking water we need to protect our wetlands. If we want to reduce the magnitude and impacts of floods and other weather events we need to protect our wetlands. I can give you all these reasons but for me, I want to protect our wetlands because I love them, just for themselves.

My first experience with a wetland came from exploring it with a simple nylon stocking net. Here is how you can make that net yourself.

You need:

  • and old nylon sock or panty hose (you want it to be loose knit like a stocking not a tight knit like a sock).
  • a strong wire coat hanger.

What you do:

  • cut the toe of the sock or the panty hose to make a tube.
  • take string or a rubber band and tightly tie off the bottom of the tube.
  • bend the coat hanger into a loop with about a three or four inch diameter and twist it together.
  • bend the other end back on itself and twist it together to strengthen the handle. (5 to 7 inches is long enough)
  • tape the handle, if you want to cover the pokey bits of wire.
  • take the open end of the stocking and loop over the hoop you made in the coat hanger.
  • staple the stocking to itself, to make a hem that encloses the hanger.
  • keep the staples fairly close together, like stitches, to make sure the stocking doesn’t slip off uner the weight of what you catch.

Grab a clear jar, find a wetland and go explore. When you get to the wetland, half fill the jar with water to keep the things you find while you study them. Make sure to return them to their home before you leave. Remember, you want to have the least amount of impact on the things you study so catch and release is the way to go. Not only is this the best ethic, in some places it is also the law. Be aware that many parks: local, state, and federal have trapping regulations to minimize the impact to the park so check before you start.

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