Shoreline Cleanup Wrap Up 

Written by Avalon Carthew, First Nations Conservation Technician 

This summer the Turtle Island Conservation and Adopt-A-Pond Wetland Conservation Program teams worked together to accomplish something wonderful: 5 shoreline cleanups across Ontario! You can read about the latest cleanup, which took place here in Toronto, here. 

Zoo staff and Indigenous volunteers collected over 500 pounds of waste and ensured it was disposed of appropriately. This is the equivalent of 1 small moose or about 23 snapping turtles! Strange finds included a bicycle, fire extinguisher, and even a pair of sunglasses. 46,881 m2 of shore were cleaned in total, by foot and by kayak, and we couldn’t have done it without the help of the 183 volunteers who participated. Thank you all so much! 

Trash doesn’t disappear into a void when you toss it into a garbage can or bag, no matter it’s size. Trash that is not responsibly disposed of often ends up at the bottom of lakes and rivers, and chances are it will wash up on shore again. Waste can damage delicate shoreline habitats and microplastics in the water can be eaten by mussels, fish, and other wildlife. This contaminates the food chain for many living beings, and is ultimately detrimental to human health as well. 

This sieve is used to detect microplastics present in the sand. 

Medicine Wheel 

Our shoreline cleanups took place in 5 different locations across Ontario, each selected with care, following the framework of the medicine wheel. The medicine wheel is used in some North American Indigenous cultures as a system of teaching information related to aspects of health, seasons, sacred plants, colours, and more. It is depicted as a wheel divided into quadrants of red, yellow, white, and black. 

Just as the medicine wheel corresponds to the 4 Sacred Directions of North, East, South, and West, so did the locations of these shoreline cleanups. 

This medicine wheel is from Turtle Island Conservation’s “The Ways Of Knowing”guide. 

  • The Magnetawan and Georgina Island cleanups were located in the North. On a medicine wheel, North is associated with white, sweetgrass, and the mind. 
  • Alderville is located in the East, which corresponds with yellow, tobacco, and the spirit. 
  • Ashbridge’s Bay is located in the South. This direction is associated with red, cedar, and emotions. 
  • Ohsweken is found in the West. This is associated with black, sage, and the physical aspects of one’s health. 

It was wonderful to be able to participate in these shoreline cleanups. Whether it’s Lake Ontario or the Magnetawan River, each shoreline is special and worthy of our care and respect.  

Shorelines and Species-at-Risk 

Shorelines aren’t just recreational areas for humans, they are also home to hundreds of species-at-risk in Ontario. Keeping our shorelines clean ensures that these animals can have habitats free of debris and chemical pollutants.  

Blanding’s turtles are just one of many animals that call shorelines home. Like all of Ontario’s turtle species, they are at risk of habitat loss and road mortality. Unfortunately, Blanding’s turtles are also victims of poaching for the illegal pet trade. 

Massasauga rattlesnakes can be found along the shorelines of Georgian Bay and the eastern part of the Bruce Peninsula. This reclusive reptile is Ontario’s only venomous snake, and will only bite in self-defense. This species-at-risk is a victim of habitat loss, road mortality, poaching, and even persecution by humans. Sadly, people may feel threatened by these shy snakes and choose to harm or kill them.  

If you witness someone poaching or harming an animal, please call the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry hotline (1-877-847-7667) or the Crime Stoppers division for your region.  

Luckily, the Toronto Zoo is hard at work to help these species-at-risk. The Blanding’s turtle head-start program and the Massasauga rattlesnake breeding program are both impactful conservation initiatives.  

A leopard frog being held by a volunteer at our Alderville shoreline cleanup. 

Getting Involved 

Volunteering to clean up your local shorelines is a great way to get outside and do something positive for your human and non-human neighbours. To find or organize a shoreline cleanup in your area, visit the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup website. 

In addition to participating in a shoreline cleanup, you can also participate in the Toronto Zoo’s Frogwatch and Turtle Tally citizen science programs via the FREE Adopt-A-Pond apps, which can be downloaded from the GooglePlay and Apple Stores. The app also has species guides that will show you how to identify turtles by sight, and frogs and toads by sight and sound. 

You simply take a photo or recording of the animal you have found, fill in information such as the date and time, and select what species you saw. It’s that easy! While we are getting into the cooler months, you can still add observations that took place earlier this summer.  

Thank you to all the volunteers, the Province of Ontario’s Great Lakes Local Action Fund, and Parks Canada for making these events possible!