Along the shore of Prince Edward County (PEC), the waters of Lake Ontario serve as a hotspot for bird watchers, nature lovers, and adventure seekers. But without safegaurds, this may not last. Lake Ontario is one of the least protected of North America’s Great Lakes, making it vulnerable to land development, runoff pollution, and invasive species. Nature Canada plans to change that.
In early March, the environmental organization launched a campaign calling on the provincial and federal governments to deem the region’s waters a National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA).
“Brighton to Wolf Island is the region that we’re looking at because it’s really important for a lot of biodiversity,” says Kelsey Scarfone, a policy and campaign manager with Nature Canada.
Similar to a land conservation area, the purpose of a NMCA is to achieve ecological sustainability in the area, promoting awareness and understanding, while also creating enjoyable experiences for visitors, says the Parks Canada website.
The PEC area is of particular interest to Nature Canada because its home to 50 at-risk species, including the Blanding’s Turtle, Piping Plover, and the American Eel. It’s also an important location for migrating birds and butterflies, Scarfone says. “In the context of the Great Lakes, there’s such a dense population around them that little pockets of biodiversity hotspots, like the waters around the South Shore, are really key to protect because it’s a system that’s under a lot of pressure.”
On top of safeguarding the area, the NMCA would provide new resources for scientific study on fish habitats. Plus, the waters in the area are home to hundreds of shipwrecks, making it a historic and culturally significant location, Scarfone says.
If the area is designated a NMCA, it’ll prevent extractive and destructive practices from disturbing the ecosystem, such as bottom trawling, lake bed mining, oil and gas extraction, and dumping.
What it won’t change is how cottagers use the area, Scarfone says. The waters will still be open to recreational use, including swimming, paddling, surfing, motorboats, and even commercial fishing.
“The ways that people interact with the lake will mostly stay the same,” Scarfone says. “In fact, it would bring a lot of reassurance and excitement to cottagers to know that all of the beauty and the reasons that they come to this area and go to the cottage is going to be preserved for future generations.”
Community groups have been advocating for several years to convert the area into a NMCA, Scarfone says. That’s what caught Nature Canada’s attention. The organization is lobbying Canada’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change as well as Ontario’s Ministry of Environment, Conservation, and Parks, to make the designation happen.
“It’s a federal designation with Parks Canada, but because the Great Lakes are a shared jurisdiction between the provincial and federal governments, there would need to be a negotiated agreement between the province and Parks Canada to actually establish the site,” Scarfone says.
If the site were established, it would contribute to the federal government’s goal of conserving 25 per cent of Canada’s land and 25 per cent of its waters by 2025. “There’s actually a new proposed conservation reserve that’s in the final stages of being established on the south shore of Prince Edward County,” Scarfone says. “The National Marine Conservation Area could really complement existing work to date to protect this area.”
Setting up a NMCA won’t happen overnight. There will be consultations with Indigenous groups and local landowners before the designation is pushed through, Scarfone says. She predicts that it could take three to four years.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in supporting Nature Canada’s NMCA efforts, you can send a letter of support to both the provincial and federal governments through the organization’s website.