An Area of Significance…
Rondeau Bay and its 12, 343 hectare watershed are located in Ontario, midway along Lake Erie’s north shore, approximately 65 km east of Point Pelee and 130 km west of Long Point.
Rondeau Bay’s marshes are a provincially significant coastal wetland and an Environmentally Sensitive Area. They play a vital role in supporting populations of common and rare birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish. Recently, the Bay and its environs have been declared an Important Bird Area
The Rondeau watershed is an important area for hundreds of species of resident and migratory birds. Every year, thousands of migrating waterfowl use the area as a stopover and rest point during their travels. Black and Caspian Terns breed in colonies and feed in the Bay, and the endangered Bald Eagle nests in adjacent Rondeau Provincial Park.
Rondeau Bay’s extensive marshes provide spawning, nursery and feeding habitats for many sport, forage and bait fish. The wetlands also help to diffuse pollution and absorb damaging wave action that erodes shorelines.
Higher in the watershed, woodlots such as Sinclair’s Bush support rare species of plants and wildlife. Many are typical of the Carolinian Life Zone and are found only in southwestern Ontario.
Recreational opportunities abound. Sport fishing and waterfowl hunting are particularly popular. Rondeau Provincial Park is a magnet to bird watchers and nature lovers. Camping, power boating, canoeing, sailing, water skiing and windsurfing add to its recreational value. These activities contribute to a strong local economy.
Canada’s Carolinian Life Zone…
Rondeau Bay and its watershed are located in the heart of Canada’s Carolinian Life Zone. The Carolinian Life Zone is a unique area found only in southwestern Ontario. It supports natural areas including woodlands, wetlands and prairies, which are more typical of areas south of the Great Lakes. In size, it makes up less than 1% of Canada’s total land area – yet it supports one quarter of the country’s population. This zone extends as far north as Toronto in the east and Grand Bend in the west. It forms the northern limit of the larger Deciduous Forest Region which extends down into North Carolina.
Due to its southerly location, southwestern Ontario has the warmest average yearly temperatures, longest frost-free season and mildest winters in the province. This mix of good weather combined with the fertile soils of the area have made the southwest the most intensively farmed area in Ontario.
Despite the area’s small size and many human pressures, its unusually warm climate supports a greater variety of plants and animals than can be found in any other natural area in Canada. Many of these species are found nowhere else in the country. The Carolinian Life Zone is estimated to contain over 2 200 plants and 70 different trees. Maples, Oaks, Hickories, Ashes, Beech, Tulip Tree and Sassafras all commonly occur as do Dutchmen’s Breeches, Trout Lily and Bloodroot. Close to 400 bird species, over half the total number found in Canada, have been recorded in this life zone. Typical woodland birds include the Red-bellied Woodpecker, Wood Thrush, Tufted Titmouse, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Screech Owl and many warblers.
Unfortunately, the Carolinian Life Zone also contains one third of the rare, threatened and endangered species in Canada. Some of these include Pawpaw, Blue Ash, American Chestnut and Kentucky Coffee Tree and plants such as the Green Dragon and Yellow Mandarin. The Acadian Flycatcher and Prothonotary Warbler are endangered. The Hooded Warbler and the Red-shouldered Hawk, which prefers forested stream and river areas, may become endangered if their Carolinian homes are not protected. Other animals that are becoming increasingly scarce in this area include the Southern Flying Squirrel, the Eastern Fox and Hognose Snakes and the Wood Frog. Examples of Canada’s significant Carolinian woodlands can be found right in your backyard, on neighbouring farms and around the watershed.
A History of Degradation…
Over the years, removal of woodlots and fence rows in the Rondeau Bay watershed to increase agricultural production has eliminated natural habitats and corridors for wildlife movement. Conventional tillage practices allowed severe wind and water erosion, carrying soils and agricultural chemicals into the Bay and degrading its water quality. An alien plant, Eurasian Water-milfoil, invaded the Bay. Chemical herbicides were used to ease the resulting navigational difficulties. Then, in 1977, the Bay’s aquatic vegetation community crashed. Water quality rapidly plummeted and the Bay’s once world renowned bass, pike and panfish sport fishery followed suit. In addition, periodic high Great Lakes water levels have battered the marshes, breaking up cattail mats and floating pieces away.
The ability of fish and wildlife to thrive around us provides a measure of the health of our surroundings. This influences our own health and well being. Many private landowners, like you, can and have helped to support strong, healthy fish and wildlife by conserving natural areas on their property. Replanting Carolinian trees and shrubs to join natural areas, reduce erosion or retire non-profitable land has additional benefits for the farm, wildlife and you. In the past decade and a half, the Rondeau Bay community has improved agricultural practices to the benefit of future generations and the environment through the implementation of conservation tillage practices, grassed waterways and chute spillways.
The Continuing Need…
Additional efforts are required. Today, only a narrow strip of wetland habitat borders Rondeau’s shoreline. Chatham-Kent forest cover has declined to 3.29% and less than 5% of the area’s natural habitats remain. These areas are threatened by exotic species, such as Purple Loosestrife and Garlic Mustard which crowd out the native species that wildlife depends upon. Improper garbage disposal also threatens wildlife with entanglement and death.
The Rondeau Watershed Coalition (formerly known as the Rondeau Bay Watershed Rehabilitation Program), was formed as a response to the need for increased environmental awareness and positive change to improve the health of the Bay and its surrounding watershed. With the help of our volunteers, partners and sponsors we are working to enhance public awareness of environmental issues in the watershed and improve public stewardship of this valuable habitat and resource.
The Rondeau Watershed Coalition is a community-based organization. Our mission is to work in cooperation with local landowners and interest groups to integrate native, natural habitats into the agricultural landscape of the Rondeau Bay watershed while promoting species recovery and a measurable improvement in water quality.