East Elgin environmental class wins international recognition

Underdeveloped countries are leading the way in environmental conservation, said East Elgin Secondary School teacher Duncan Sinclair.

He recently returned from Huatulco, Mexico where he accepted an international award and $1,500 cash for the Environmental Leadership Program at EESS.

It was in recognition of the annual Marsh Quest program held in Herb Kebbel Wetland at Yarmouth Natural Heritage Area.

The class was awarded second place in the Schools Supporting the Wise Use of Wetlands category for the Americas Region of the international Ramsar Convention, Feb. 2, World Wetlands Day. It also marked the 40th anniversary of Ramsar.

The Ramsar Convention, on wetlands of international importance, is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands, to stem the progressive encroachment on and loss of wetlands.

It was designed to recognize the fundamental ecological functions of wetlands and their economic, cultural, scientific, and recreational value.

The convention was developed and adopted by participating nations at a meeting in Ramsar, Iran on Feb. 2, 1971.

It currently has 160 member countries with its headquarters in Gland, Switzerland.

Mr. Sinclair said Ramsar Americas encompasses north, central and south America.

The East Elgin class placed second to Tantramar Regional High School in Sackville, New Brunswick. That school is situated beside a wetland and operates its program year-round.

In awarding EESS second place, Ramsar officials noted Marsh Quest is an interactive wetland field trip for Grade 4 pupils to learn more about wetlands habitats.

More than 500 pupils from 12 schools take part in the eight-day program.

“Activities are designed to be fun, hands-on, and linked directly to the Ontario curriculum, allowing pupils to learn about the diversity of wildlife supported by a wetland and the role humans play in their future.

“The activities are led by the Environmental Leadership Program students and range from dip netting to look for insects, learning how to bird watch with binoculars, to an up-close look at wetland-dependent species at risk.”

Mr. Sinclair said the ELP students were the key to the success of the program. Their dedication and enthusiasm were important assets that helped inspire the Grade 4 pupils visiting the wetland.

He also praised Lauren Selby at Jaffa Outdoor Environmental Centre who designs the different teaching sites at the wetland and arranges the schedules for visiting schools.

The support of Catfish Creek Conservation Authority was also important, said Mr. Sinclair. Conservation areas supervisor Ed Pietrzak and two other employees were on site for all eight days lending help whenever needed.

Money was a challenge in establishing and operating the program. He said community sponsors and supporters help the class raise the $8,000 needed in the annual operating budget including transportation so that Grade 4 pupils in the Aylmer area get “a free wetland experience.”

The school administration also needed to be recognized he said because without the support or encouragement of the principal and other staff, the program could not continue.

“The success of the Marsh Quest and the ELP class is not about me. It’s the students and the support we get from the school and the community.”

Mr. Sinclair was notified of the award about a week before the ceremony.

He was initially told the president of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, would be making the presentation but matters of state diverted him.

He said a number of armed federal police officers attended to ensure the safety of the contingent of international participants.

Mr. Sinclair was surprised at how large the event was, with speakers from every country describing what actions their respective countries were taking to preserve wetlands.

The seminars started at 8 a.m. and continued until 10 p.m. with breaks only for meals.

“Water is gold to many of those countries.”

He said children from nearby schools staged a parade wearing costumes depicting different aquatic creatures.

The award presentations were made under a canopy by the beach.

As a result of the conference he returned to Canada realizing underdeveloped countries were leading the way in efforts to conserve water.

“They have a vested interest in developing programs for water conservation.

“Wetlands mean water and water means life.”

He noted that in Canada, World Wetlands Day passed without any formal recognition.

Mr. Sinclair said countries participating in the Ramsar Convention have committed to working towards the wise use of all their wetlands through national land-use planning, policies and legislations, management action and public education.

They also committed to designating suitable wetlands for the List of Wetlands of International Importance and ensure their effective management.

In addition they promised to co-operate internationally on trans-boundary wetlands, shared wetland systems, shared species and development projects that might affect wetlands.

-Aylmer Express