It’s easy to ignore what we don’t see. As terrestrial beings, we rarely have the opportunity to observe the dynamism unfolding in aquatic systems. By extension, it can be difficult to visualize the impacts our actions have on this realm. The surface of Lake Winnipeg – sometimes gently lapping, sometimes ferociously crashing – masks an intricate and diverse community of species struggling to maintain ecological balance in a highly compromised ecosystem. Adressing the issues yields benefits for the environment and for us.
Though our fisheries depend directly on just a handful of species, Lake Winnipeg contains more than 45 types of fish. They inhabit the varied aquatic zones of the lake, especially the mouths of inflowing rivers and streams, and the wetlands that lie along its shores (two habitats most prone to development). Vascular plant, invertebrate and algae species also abound.
Climate change, invasive species, and nutrient overload from human activities are all factors impacting the lake’s ecology. Manitoba committed to a 50% reduction in phosphorus (the most problematic of those nutrients) that enters Lake Winnipeg and triggers detrimental algal blooms. Preserving the Boreal forest and wetlands in the Lake Winnipeg watershed will help too. These act as natural sponges to absorb excess nutrients and convert them into plant growth. So, a healthy Boreal is directly linked to the health of Lake Winnipeg and all our boreal waters.
As we move into spring, talk of Manitoba’s waters shift to the severity of flood forcasts and the impacts this has on near shore communities. Just as healthy networks of wetlands and forests filter out nutrients and contaminants, they also play a critical role in absorbing and slowing the movement of water across the landscape. This can reduce flood intensity and thus the economic, social and environmentl costs associated with flood impacts. When we compromise these natural systems on the landscape, we also lose the incredibly valuable services they provide while gaining the costs associated with replacing those services or remediating the results of their absence.
The text and images in this post are republished from the CPAWS Manitoba 2017 Boreal Wilderness Calendar. Images were generously donated for this publication by Stuart Deacon (Lake Winnipeg) and Paul Vecsei (Northern Pike).