Georgina Island First Nation Shoreline Cleanup Project

Written by Christine Drader  

On August 19th, our team took part in the third shoreline cleanup event for our Great Lakes Local Action Fund project. This time around, we headed over to Georgina Island within Lake Simcoe, one of the islands of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation. 

Our Toronto Zoo team at our outreach tent from right to left: Taylor T., Avalon C., Donnell G., Annie W., Megan Y., Christine D. As well as Michelle O. (taking the photo).

The cleanup began with a traditional water blessing, which we were honored to take part in. Afterwards, representatives from the Toronto Zoo as well as Georgina Island First Nation Environmental Department split the volunteers into groups to cover four locations across the island. By splitting into groups, we were able to cover more area and hopefully clean up more habitat for the species at risk. 

Water keepers from Georgina Island First Nation performing a sacred water ceremony (with photography permission granted to our staff).

Georgina Island First Nation is home to a variety of reptile and amphibian wildlife including four species of frogs/toads, three species of salamanders, three species of turtles, and three species of snakes. The Blanding’s turtle, Common Snapping turtle, and Eastern Milksnake are specifically species at risk. Their preferred habitats, respectively, include shallow water such as wetlands, slow moving waterways with soft mud or sandy bottoms, and rocky outcrops. These habitats were found in abundance around the shorelines of the island!  

Local wetland habitat on Georgina Island.

During the cleanup, our volunteers worked hard collecting trash both on land and in water (through some dedicated kayak maneuvering!). Much of what we collected was small, degraded plastic and styrofoam pieces. Unfortunately, plastics don’t biodegrade and instead break into smaller and smaller pieces that release chemicals into the environment. Additionally, these small pieces can be ingested by wildlife and enter the food-chain, which results in a process called biomagnification. For example, if a small fish mistakes microplastics in the environment for food and ingested them, it might contain 5 units of microplastic. However, when a larger fish eats multiple smaller fish to sustain itself, it also consumes the microplastic within these smaller fish. So, if it eats 5 small fish containing 5 units of microplastic each, it is consuming 25 units of microplastic. The species at risk stated above are predators to other wildlife in the area, meaning they would be more at-risk for the cumulative effects of microplastics.  

Pieces of Styrofoam found on the beach at Georgina Island.

Altogether, members of the community collected 14 bags and a total of 169 pounds of trash across the four cleanup locations on the island! By removing this amount of trash from the environment, their hard work will leave the land and water cleaner than before, protecting important habitat for species at risk and other aquatic species. A community BBQ and raffle was held to thank volunteers for their amazing work and dedication!  

A well deserved BBQ for all our hardworking volunteers!

Thank you so much to everyone who volunteered their time. And thank you to Chippewas of Georgina Island, to the Province of Ontario, and Parks Canada for making this event possible.