DIVERT & CAPTURE: The fight to keep microplastics out of our water
Microplastics/fibres pollution is gaining momentum as a real crisis in our water systems from the Great Lakes and its tributaries, all the way down to individual lakes and rivers in local municipalities. Although still a relatively new field of study, it is clear that action and education is needed now to staunch the outflow of these pollutants into our drinking water and the water we and our aquatic species rely on to live. Every toxin that enters our waterways is and will continue to affect the quality of water today and into the future. We must ensure that we, as citizens of the Great Lakes and this great planet, do our part to save our most precious resource -- our water.
Our program has three overarching goals focused on improving the water quality specifically in coastal communities around Georgian Bay. The most important goal is to (1) physically divert microplastics/mircofibres from entering our water at the source by providing "catchers" placed on washing machines to a piloted group of residents in Parry Sound. The pilot project participants are being asked to collect and keep the fragments so that at the end of the project, GBF can weigh and measure the amount that was caught. We are also working with the Town of Parry Sound with sampling thier effleunt periodically over the project lifespan to see if we can discern a measurable reduction. (2) The second goal is to engage the community in hands-on clean up efforts of their properties, and town parks, shorelines and beaches in an effort to stop as much plastic from entering the water as we can. This will include the recruitment of volunteers, young and old, to take responsibility and action to reduce the amount of plastics washing up on to the shore or being consumed by aquatic species by actively participating in organized cleanups. (3) The third goal is to provide the public with information on what microplastics are and why they are so harmful to the water and animals, how they affect the water quality and lastly, to provide practical tips they can employ easily to prevent their own advancements to the issue. This will include a scientific study to determine impacts of source capture strategies.
AUTONOMOUS UNDERWATER VEHICLE
The quality of the Bay’s water is significant on many fronts. Not only can poor water quality negatively impact drinking water, bathing, swimming and tourism appeal, it can also lead to massive die-offs of native fish, other aquatic species and birds. The potential repercussions for failing to consistently and effectively monitor water quality are alarming.
While our creative and scientific minds are constantly churning with thoughts of new and better ways to keep the pristine waters of Georgian Bay clean, up until now, our method of measuring water quality was, at best, rudimentary and inconsistent. Conducting water quality sampling over the side of a boat is labour-intensive, time-consuming, and generates limited data reflective of the entire Bay. We need access to robust, scientifically-based data to help inform key government decision-makers who are responsible for policy and regulation affecting our water, and to help inform proactive measures to protect the Bay. Flagging changes in water quality is the first step in keeping the Bay clean. Thanks to a mutually beneficial partnership with several well-respected Canadian Universities, GBF will now have the ability to model the impacts of climate change, water levels, increasing development, industrial or municipal spills, sewage overflows, septic failures, aquaculture operations, bacterial contamination and the success of conservation measures. And we will be able to consistently collect data in a way that allows us to monitor water quality trends from year to year, and detect and map improvements and declines in areas throughout the Bay. Most importantly, we will be able to do all this in a cost effective way.
80% of the Great Lakes’ 3,500 different species rely on Georgian Bay’s 3,700 kilometres of coastal wetlands for survival, including many species at risk. The wetlands provide a life-sustaining haven for food and foraging, nurseries, spawning, shade, and shelter. They are also important for water quality improvement. They act as a natural filtration system by reducing excess nutrients that lead to algal growth, and can decrease harmful contaminant concentrations. However, we are losing precious wetland habitat to an invasive, fast growing grass-like reed that has no natural predators, INVASIVE PHRAGMITES! Left unchecked, Invasive Phragmites is creating virtual “dead zones”. It is crowding out native plants, decimating the wetland habitat of native species, and impairing the wetlands’ natural ability to act as a water filtration system. Phragmites thrives in both low water and high water level conditions, spreads easily, growing into dense monocultures in excess of 15 feet, and poses a threat to life all around it as well as to recreational activities, lake views and property values.
Over the past six years, Georgian Bay Forever has been championing the fight against Invasive Phragmites, which was merely a blip on the radar for government and the Georgian Bay community when we first took up the fight. We foresaw that without action, its impact over time would be devastating. We have trained over 700 community members in identification and removal techniques and have removed over 103,000 kg’s from the shorelines of Georgian Bay and are committed to continuing this fight for the sake of our water and wetlands.