(Above: The author as a young child with his father’s garden pond in the background.)
by Gabriel Forest, Contributing Writer
Remember doing icebreakers in elementary school?
“Do you have any pets?” is a question I remember being asked often, because I never had a dog or a cat. My answer was always “Well, we have frogs.”
If you’re picturing a little terrarium, think bigger. “How many frogs?”, the teacher would ask.
“I don’t know, at least fifty.”
“My goodness!” she replied.
And it was true! My dad kept a garden pond in our backyard, complete with a waterfall, lily pads, and the frogs in question. He liked the soothing sound of the waterfall and the calming aesthetic of the pond. While my siblings and I knew we were lucky to have a bit of nature in our backyard, I didn’t fully realize how cool the pond was until I looked at it from a conservationist’s perspective.
Urban ponds are small inland bodies of water surrounded by an urban environment.1 They offer aesthetic value by brightening up the parks, and recreational value to city dwellers who can enjoy waterside walks during the summer and skating during the winter. Think Parc Jean La Fontaine, or Park Jarry. How lucky are we to have so many ponds in Montreal?
Most importantly in my eyes, urban ponds can serve as important habitats for the remaining wildlife in our cities and suburbs. Although private garden ponds don’t offer the same contribution to the public as urban ponds, they both provide essential habitats for wildlife. Thinking back to my dad’s garden pond, I remember that it housed a small community of insects like water striders and other invertebrates in addition to the frogs and aquatic plants.
Natural ponds have been traditionally ignored when studying freshwater biodiversity, but recent work has emphasized their importance. Specifically, one study has shown that maintaining pond networks is important in maintaining regional scale biodiversity.2 However, this does not apply to urban ponds as they are being currently managed, and that’s plain to see here in Montreal. Still, it is important to recognize that urban ponds present a conservation opportunity, and researchers are urging urban planners to not let opportunity pass. There are many factors that can be locally controlled to increase the biodiversity of urban ponds, like pond design, water quality, and the fauna and flora that is introduced.3 The importance of green areas to our well being has been widely studied,4 and as cities continue to expand globally, it is crucial that the bodies of water within these green areas are well-managed so that they can reach their fullest potential.
Just as cities are being encouraged to invest in their aquatic landscape, I want to encourage citizens to invest in their backyards. Combined with some wildlife gardening, garden ponds are a great way to improve suburban biodiversity. By nurturing these private green areas, individuals have a meaningful impact on conservation efforts by restoring the nature that has been destroyed by development. Remember: by fighting for green spaces in our cities, or building them ourselves in our yards, we are giving back to the planet, but also to ourselves and those to come as we leave a better world behind.