Wetlands can provide the health benefits of getting outside 

The Upper Carp wetland with its ??km of pathways and other access points will be providing a variety of outdoor experiences not normally found in more traditional urban greenspace settings that stimulates one to slow down, relax and enjoy.  Wetlands have a wide array of interactions with nature that helps soothe our brains. For instance, Stanford’s Gregory Bratman designed an experiment in which participants took a 50-minute walk in either a natural or an urban environment. People who took the nature walk experienced decreased anxiety, brooding and negative emotion and increased memory performance. Bratman’s team found walking in natural environments can decrease rumination, the unhealthy but familiar habit of thinking over and over about causes and consequences of negative experiences. Their study also showed neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness was reduced in participants who walked through nature compared with those who walked through an urban environment. 

Healthy kids need time in nature

The David Suzuki Foundation has pointed out that for the most part, our brains didn’t evolve in cities. But in a few decades, almost 70 per cent of the world’s people will live in urban environments. Despite the prosperity we associate with cities, urbanization presents a major health challenge. Cities, with their accelerated pace of life, can be stressful. The results are seen in the brains and behaviour of those raised in cities or currently living in one. 

On the upside, city dwellers are on average wealthier and receive better health care, nutrition and sanitation than rural residents. On the downside, they experience an increased risk of chronic disease, a more demanding and stressful social environment and greater levels of inequity. In fact, city dwellers have a 21 per cent greater risk for anxiety disorders and a 39 per cent increased likelihood of mood disorders. 

study published in Nature links city living with sensitivity to social stress. MRI scans show greater exposure to urban environments can increase activity in the amygdala, a brain structure involved in emotions such as fear and the release of stress-related hormones. According to the study, the amygdala “has been strongly implicated in anxiety disorders, depression, and other behaviours that are increased in cities, such as violence.” 

The researchers also found people who lived in cities for their first 15 years experienced increased activity in an area of the brain that helps regulate the amygdala. So if you grew up in the city, you’re more likely than those who moved there later in life to have permanently raised sensitivity to stress. 

Author and professor David Gessner says we’re turning into “fast twitch” animals. It’s like we have an alarm clock going off in our brains every 30 seconds, sapping our ability to concentrate for longer periods of time. The demands of urban life include a constant need to filter information, dodge distractions and make decisions. We give our brains little time to recover. 

How do we slow things down? Nature seems to be the answer. Cognitive psychologist David Strayer’s hypothesis is that “being in nature allows the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s command centre, to dial down and rest, like an overused muscle.” 

Korean researchers investigated the differences in brain activity when volunteers just looked at urban versus natural scenery. For those viewing urban images, MRI scans showed increased blood flow to the amygdala region. In contrast, areas of the brain associated with empathy and altruism lit up for those who viewed natural scenes. 

In Japan, scientists found people spending time in nature — shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” — inhale “beneficial bacteria, plant-derived essential oils and negatively-charged ions” which interact with gut bacteria to strengthen the body’s immune system and improve both mental and physical health. 

This urban wetland is not a panacea for mental health but it can be viewed as a component of health and psychological resilience. Nature helps us withstand and recover from life’s challenges and gives our overworked brains a break and there's lots of variety in a wetland.. 

Power of the people: The role of citizen science in the Upper Carp River wetland restoration and conservation project

The City of Ottawa and the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority will be monitoring the hydrology and fish habitat for the first few years after restoration is completed in 2018, but the monitoring of the overall biodiversity of the wetland will be in the hands of those who are interested in environmental and conservation happenings in their own backyard.- hence the Living Classroom Project.

Citizen observation is a growing phenomena of linking scientific research and public participation and education. Observations and questions on a certain wetland species such as a Blanding's turtle can be directed towards Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority and Ottawa Riverkeeper to help document the functioning of the wetland in a way that can be meaningful to scientific research and conservation efforts.

Apps such as WaterRangers, iNaturalist permits accurate data collection and a more reliable accessible form of information.  A unique EcoTrekr app is being developed which uses a smart phone’s geo-referencing app with notification abilities that will allow specific features along the pathways to be highlighted as one travels along them. Features such as landmarks, eco-zones, vegetation types, introduced species, can thus be drawn to the visitor’s attention at exact points along the paths through their smart phone provided they have downloaded the app.
  . Over time it is hoped that those living and using the wetland will become local experts on wetland life and share pictures of an animal or bird, or a report on a type of flower or plant associated insects such as bees and butterflies that can be used in providing good baseline information on the strengths and weaknesses of the restored wetland.

Spending time deliberately observing a particular species or group of species increases awareness, understanding, and appreciation of natural systems and enhances the health benefits or outdoor living.  It can also spur interest in learning more about various species and environmental features that surround us and improve one's scientific literacy which is becoming increasingly valuable as more species and systems face degradation and extinction.

It is becoming increasingly important to monitor amphibian and reptile populations as many are becoming more at risk, and monitoring by citizen scientists can provide an incredible amount of information that otherwise would not be possible. Reptiles and amphibians are experiencing global declines of 20 and 40 percent respectively. In Ontario, 75 percent of reptiles and 35 percent of amphibians are listed as nationally and provincially at-risk.ref . 

Amphibians tend to inhabit smaller areas, and don't move around a lot, making them good candidates for citizen science projects. Understanding the impact of urbanization in Kanata West on herpetological communities is very valuable for Riverkeeper's on-going monitoring of wetlands, especially in urban settings to understand if and where certain species thrive in the midst of urban development. Knowing this can help understand the scope of a problem and come up with more specific research questions and better plans for conservation.

On June 19, 2018, the Carp River Wetland Environmental Area was officially opened.