“Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six.” Cindy Lu calls out over the wetland, stopwatch in hand. Steven Blair is knee-deep in the murky water. He strategically places a long pole with a net at the end into the water as he moves along in a zig-zag motion through the emergent and submergent vegetation zones of his study area.  

“Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Stop.” Cindy clicks the stopwatch and continues to work on her previous task of sketching out the wetland on a piece of paper.  

Steven carefully makes his way out of the water. An empty bin and several cylinder containers are ready for him on the ground. He takes his net and unscrews the canister from the bottom, emptying the contents into the bin. It looks like just a clump of weeds and dirt, but as you look closer you notice the pile is moving. Little creatures of all shapes and sizes move around the plant material and water. These little creatures are known as aquatic macroinvertebrates. 

Aquatic macroinvertebrates are insects, nails, worms, crayfish, and clams that spend at least part of their lives in water. They play a significant role in freshwater ecosystems by recycling nutrients as well as providing food to larger wildlife species.  

Studying the Effectiveness of Wetlands

This year, the Wetlands Workforce was able to support the work of Steven Blair. Steven is a student at the British Columbia Institute of Technology and Simon Fraser University, completing his master’s study that focuses on the effectiveness of restored wetlands. Through the collection of macroinvertebrates, Steven aims to determine the state of the ecosystem’s health and recovery. Over the month of July, he and Cindy Lu, Wetlands Workforce Field Technician, collected macroinvertebrate, water quality, soil and vegetation samples from 16 wetlands in the Kootenays.  

“Out here, we are looking at created wetlands throughout the Kootenays. We’re looking to see if macroinvertebrates are actually colonizing these wetlands and if these wetlands are able to support a diverse community,” said Steven.  

The Objective of the study is to:

  • Identify and compare aquatic invertebrate richness in created wetlands of different ages and reference wetlands.
  • Identify the wetland habitat parameters that correlate to greater richness of aquatic invertebrates, water quality, vegetation community and soil characteristics. 
  • Determine if age and dominant construction type (groundwater vs. surface fed water) of a wetland impacts aquatic invertebrate richness. 
Steven Blair and Cindy Lu at a wetland site near Kimberley B.C.

Steven and Cindy collected samples from three separate categories of wetlands: Wetlands constructed in 2016/2017, wetlands constructed in 2018/2019, and reference wetlands considered natural wetlands. 

The goal of the study is to determine if aquatic invertebrates are useful bioindicators of ecosystem health in created and reference wetlands of the Kootenays; to have the results of this study help guide future construction techniques and adaptive management actions to increase colonization of aquatic invertebrates in created wetlands.  

“I want to see out of my thesis if constructed wetlands are real viable options to act as the replacement of the natural counterparts, because we really need that today. With all the development that is going on in the world, we really need to start restoring habitats and replacing them. I hope this study will show that our created wetlands can support a diverse amount of biotic life.”  

Steven and Cindy used the CABIN (Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network) protocol for wetlands for the study. Steven notes that aquatic invertebrates have been shown to be indicators of aquatic system health. They reflect all sorts of habitat conditions, ranging from water quality and vegetation structure to broader ecosystem health that can influence larger wetland animals like fish and waterfowl.  

Timelapse video of Steven and Cindy collecting samples at one of the 16 wetlands they visited this summer.

He explains, “Macroinvertebrates are a primary trophic link within an ecosystem because they connect primary producers like plants and algae, to the higher species of the food chain that include fish, waterfowl, amphibians and even bats.” Steven grew up with a passion for the outdoors and a desire to do what he can for the environment. For him, there is no question of whether our watersheds need to be protected or not, “Wetlands and watersheds really represent life. Without water, you are not going to have life […] Since we are losing wetlands and watersheds at such a fast rate around the world, it is important that we start discovering how to replace, restore and conserve them as much as we can.” 

“This whole journey would not be possible without all those who have supported me along the way. Thank you to all the landowners that were always welcoming and driven to rewild the environment. The amazing team from the B.C. Wildlife Federation and Wetlands Workforce project supported me along the way. A big thanks to Neil who took a chance on me and brought me on to do this project. To Cindy and Christina that helped me collect samples out in the field. My two amazing advisors, Lisa and Darcy, guided me through this adventure from office to the field. The University of Guelph for offering to process the samples through their STREAM program. And to those at Environment Canada that are helping with the data on CABIN.” – Steven Blair

To learn more about Steven’s study and his findings you can watch his presentation given at the 2021 Wetlands Institute Speaker Series.

The Wetland Dialogues:
Steven Blair, Masters Student, BCIT & SFU

Cindy Lu, Field Technician, Wetlands Workforce

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