Spending time on a shoreline is a privilege and an escape that so many of us enjoy. Whether that is with day trips to the beach, or camping near waterways or having a cottage or even home on a shore, we know that being at the water’s edge is calming and peaceful. For me it somehow washes away my stress in an instant.
In fact, it is thought that watching the movement of water is so ingrained in our evolution, that it is innately calming to most of us, and being in nature has known benefits to both our physical and mental wellbeing.
However, as much as we like to be near the water or to live on waterfront properties and take advantage of the benefits that come along with these locations, it is crucial to remember that lakes aren’t just for human enjoyment. They are ecosystems that provide a habitat to many important species that contribute to the overall health of the lake.
Development alongside lakes, which consists of building waterfront homes, cottages, and campsites, has a significant impact on shoreline habitat. This affects the health of the entire lake, as shorelines are referred to as the “ribbon of life” which supports countless species of plants and animals.
These days, we are seeing more and more people building cabins on lakes or living in their cabins full time thanks to the ability to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that it is more important than ever to take our actions into account and assess how they are impacting the environment.
There are certain management practices that we can adopt (and encourage our neighbours to adopt) in order to help protect the shorelines, habitats, and water quality of the lakes we live on and use recreationally.
How exactly are lake ecosystems impacted by human activity?
Human activities on and nearby lakes have contributed to lower water quality over the last 50 years. When land is cleared for cottage or recreational development, an increased flow of nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen enter the water.
This is because the natural shoreline is often disrupted in order for these buildings and their accompanying docks to be built. Native trees, shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers, that are important components of the shoreline, are removed so that cabins can be situated right on the lake.
In addition, the use of phosphorus-rich fertilizers on the plants, gardens, and lawns of cottage owners may result in nutrient runoff into the water as well.
These nutrients encourage plants in the lake to grow, therefore resulting in thick mats of algae and other plant matter. Now, you might be wondering why more plants is a bad thing…after all, more plants and green spaces are often encouraged when it comes to the creation and maintenance of sustainable sites.
Well, when these aquatic plants die, they settle to the bottom of the lake and decompose. The decomposition process uses dissolved oxygen in the water. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, but because an excess number of plants are growing and dying, the amount of oxygen being used up might result in the death of fish and other aquatic species due to a lack of dissolved oxygen in the water.
Natural Shoreline benefits
Now that we know how human activity can negatively impact the lake’s ecosystem, it is important to understand how natural shorelines help to mitigate these impacts.
There are four main benefits to natural shorelines that are rich in native species:
In terms of water quality, all the trees, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers that grow along the shoreline help to absorb and trap excess nutrients and chemicals before they are able to enter the water. In contrast, bare surfaces encourage runoff that carries unwanted substances which end up in the lakes.
In addition, shoreline vegetation reduces soil erosion by using their roots to keep soil in place, therefore stabilizing banks and preventing excessive sedimentation into lakes.
We can’t forget that these plants provide habitat for both aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, protecting the biodiversity of lakes.
Lastly, native vegetation is beautiful! People have cabins on the lake so that they can enjoy the great outdoors and get away from cities. It doesn’t make much sense to remove the wonderful native plants that create a sense of wilderness that can’t be replicated. Don’t be tempted to remove these species in order to make room for a larger lawn or better access to the water. Let nature thrive!
How we can protect our shorelines
Whether you are a cottage or home owner along a shoreline or nearby, or enjoy camping and getting out to waterways, there are things that you can do to protect shorelines and waterways.
When you camp
If you are car-camping or backwoods camping, the message is the same, treat the water with respect. That means that we need to avoid putting anything into the water or near the water, especially camp fuel or gasoline, human waste, food waste and detergents. But, we should also protect the water from sediment by keeping the shoreline natural and not removing plants, trees and even fallen vegetation.
Here are some tips for protecting shorelines while camping:
When you fish and boat
Try to avoid using motorized vehicles on the water. In addition to being generally inefficient motors burning fossil fuels, they also contribute to lower air quality, add noise pollution and can leak toxic fuel into the water.
Consider the calmer, quieter and zero pollution methods of canoeing and kayaking when you get around by boat if at all possible.
If you do use motorized watercraft:
When you own property on or near the water
If you are a lakeside property owner or know someone who is, there are many ways to assess and reduce your impact on the lake’s shoreline.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Shorelines truly are magical places. They bring us beauty and calm as well as fun and excitement when we visit or live alongside them, but we can’t forget that they are habitats that need to be protected. Their biodiversity and health matters. They must be respected for they are truly ribbons of life.
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