Review of Watermark – Amy Bodman

January 15, 2014 Borys Holowacz Latest Posts

In making the film Watermark Burtynsky asks the question, “How does water shape us, and how do we shape water?” The answer to the first part of this question is that water is vital to us, in fact we are mostly made of water.  The answer to the second part is that we shape water in ways that alter the planet so significantly that we are in danger of creating a planet on which we will not be able to survive.
Tonight we are taking the opportunity to introduce the South Shore Coalition, a group of 6 organizations who are interested in protecting Prince Edward County’s South Shore as wildlife habitat and as an area of cultural and historical importance.  The South Shore of PEC is the last undeveloped wildlife habitat on the north shore of Lake Ontario.  We believe it is a place worth saving and protecting.
At the beginning of Watermark, you will see images of the barren Colorado River Delta which, until the US redirected the Colorado River to supply water and electricity to parts of California, was an enormous wetland.  What was a lush, thriving ecosystem while the river still fed it, is now desert.  What we see in these images is the skeleton of what once was.
Prince Edward County is also predominantly made up of wetlands, although a lot of its wetlands have been drained or otherwise altered for agriculture.  If Prince Edward County were to be suddenly cut off from its water sources, it would look a lot like the images of the Colorado River Delta.
One of the most valuable and extraordinary features of Prince Edward County’s South Shore is the fact that it contains wetlands that are pristine. These wetlands include the provincially significant Big Sand Bay, Salmon Point, the South Shore Marsh, the South Bay Coastal Wetland, Soup Harbour and Black River Swamp. The South Shore also contains many varieties of rare and unusual plants due to the presence of alvar habitat, which is a globally‐imperiled ecosystem.
As Dr. Paul Catling, an expert on alvars, describes them, “Alvars are characterized by a mosaic of distinctive plant associations adapted to extreme environmental conditions, including periodic flooding and severe drought, mediated by shallow soil depths, variable water tables and dramatic runoff patterns.” Due to their thin layer of soil on top of a large bed of limestone, alvars function as temporary wetlands in the spring and fall, and desert in the summer, allowing very rare plants to grow on them.  Many creatures depend on this imperiled Alvar habitat.
A lot of the people can look at the South Shore and see it only as scrub land that isn’t doing anything because few people live there and it’s not good land for agriculture.  It looks to people like “unproductive land.”  But in fact, that land is doing a lot for us, just as it is.
The wetlands and the alvars of the South Shore help to ensure the health of our water system. They filter and therefore purify the water that runs off into Lake Ontario, which is extremely important in agricultural areas like the County where there are a lot of pollutants, like fertilizers, in our run-off system that affect the health of the lake.  Wetlands also provide essential breeding habitat for fish, frogs, turtles, snakes, insects, birds – the last living ancestors of the dinosaurs – and numerous other species.
Animals that depend upon pristine wetlands like the Blandings turtle help keep clean water systems clean by eating the debris that gathers in the wetlands.  And, if allowed to live and thrive, they can do it for a long time. Blandings turtles, like us, have a life span of 80 years.
Beavers, which a hundred years ago were nearly extinct, help build and expand wetlands.  Scientists are now discovering that the dams they create help replenish massive ground water sources like aquifers.  In other words, they give us a water source we can draw on in times of drought.  A new study from Colorado State University geology professor Ellen Wohl finds that beaver meadows, which are what the wetlands are called that beavers create through their dams, store carbon, temporarily sequestering greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.  Once they get drained or altered, however, those greenhouse gas emissions are released.
The amazing thing about wetlands is that they are self-sustaining systems.  Every natural living thing in them has evolved to sustain the health of the wetland and in turn, the bodies of water they feed into. That includes the plants, fish, frogs, turtles, snakes, insects, birds and the butterflies they support. They all are doing a job.
Even all those scrubby red cedars are fixing soil in places where it has seriously eroded due to the deforestation that took place all across the County a century and a half ago. They are part of a natural process working to restore the land. These natural processes need to be protected so they can do their job for the environment
So you see, the pristine wetlands on Prince Edward County’s South Shore are definitely worth protecting, as are its alvars, its maritime history, and the entire South Shore itself.

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