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IJC survey: Great Lakes citizens value the Great Lakes for drinking water, recreation and as treasured natural resource
April 14, 2016

This article has been modified from Mark Mattson’s post on Lake Ontario Waterkeeper’s website April 14, 2016. 


Great Lakes NASA photo

We started Swim Guide because we believe that every person should be able to swim at any beach on any day of the summer and never have to worry about health risks. When water isn’t safe to touch, people withdraw from it. And when the connection between us and our water fades, so does our instinct to protect it.

Since its inception in 2011, Swim Guide has been helping its users discover great places to swim while at the same time helping protect their health by providing reliable information about beach water quality.

Today, we were reassured that Swim Guide is a necessary tool for the Great Lakes’ protection.


They Will Surf Again: SurfAble puts Canada on the Map for Adaptive Surfing
April 12, 2016

As Canadians, we are blessed to have beautiful, albeit cold surf on both coasts. For many people, next month marks the beginning of four months of uninterrupted summer surf.

For many – but not for all. Surfing represents perhaps one of the most extreme accessibility challenges for those with physical disabilities. In an unfortunate statistic, young males between the ages of the 19 and 25 that love extreme sports – exactly the people who anxiously await surfing season all year – are some of the most common to incur spinal cord injuries.

This is what Occupational Therapist Paula Green sees every day. Her job is to help her patients through physical rehab, a particularly difficult task with this extreme-sport-loving demographic.

“Many of the clients I work with are facing new traumatic injuries and I see them struggling with how they will move on and return to the fun and exciting activities that previously helped to define who they were as individuals,” says Green. “Showing them videos of Jesse Billauer surfing has been a great motivator for my clients.”

Billauer, a junior surfer one month away from going pro, was rendered a quadriplegic at the age of 17 after being pulled inside a barrel and thrown into a sandbar. With the help of the surf community, Billauer went on to become a motivational speaker, the founder of Life Rolls On, and World Champion for Adaptive Surfing.

Green’s work with spinal cord injuries, along with her experiences surfing in Australia (where she met her husband, also a surfer) and exposure to Billauer’s story, started a ripple in her life that turned into big waves. In 2014, Green helped to organize the first ever international event for Life Rolls On – They Will Surf Again Martinique Beach.  Spurred on by the success of this event, SurfAble, a Nova Scotia-based not-for-profit modeled after Life Rolls On, was formed four months ago, pioneering the movement for adaptive surfing in Canada.


No notifications, no information: Paddling with a floating condom
April 8, 2016

This article was first published by Ruby Pajares on Lake Ontario Waterkeeper’s website on April 6, 2016. 

Last summer, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment decided that Toronto should notify the public of wet weather events. This will alert the public when recreational water quality is in question. But nearly eight months have passed. We’re less than three months away from the next swimming season. Torontonians are still waiting. If you happen to be one of Toronto’s many dedicated rec water users like Michael and Nadia Austin, you probably have a few concerns. Waterkeeper caught up with these two surfer-SUP’ers to discuss their recent experiences on the water.

Michael Austin - Condom floating in Lake Ontario

Paddling past a floating condom. (Photo by Michael Austin)


Originally from the Sunshine State, Michael moved to Toronto when he married Nadia. Coming from Florida’s sandy beaches, Michael had one condition. “I told Nadia, we have to live on the water.” Now they live by the Humber River and Humber Bay area, along the shores of Lake Ontario.

As avid surfers and stand-up paddleboarders, Michael and Nadia are in the water year-round. They praise the days in winter when the winds are howling and waves come crashing. When the water is calmer, they enjoy recreational paddles and race in the Ontario and Toronto SUP Series. Mike is currently training for the upcoming Niagara to Toronto raceacross Lake Ontario this September.

“To have Lake Ontario as my backyard and be able to do these things – hang out with like-minded people, do beach cleanups, paddle, whether it be for rec or racing – it’s so amazing,” said Michael.

But things aren’t perfect.


Healthy Fish, Healthy People: The Link Between Drinking Water Quality and the Health of Freshwater Habitats.
March 31, 2016

This blog post is the second of a three-part Swim, Drink, Fish series. The focus of this blog post is Drink.

It often surprises me how little we make the connection between watershed health and drinking water quality.

When we hear about local freshwater habitats being negatively impacted by pollution, what does this mean to us? If we hear about fish growing extra appendages, becoming sterile, or reaching sexual maturity early because of birth control in their ecosystem, do we think about what this means for the water we drink?

Often, if we think about it, it’s not frequently enough. I forget it sometimes, too – that the health of my watershed is the health of my drinking water.

Nature’s Filter

Supporting healthy fish habitats supports healthy drinking water, enhances ecosystem health, and supports diverse wildlife populations.

Great White Egret drinking water from a lake

Healthy habitats – ones that support fish and wildlife – correspond to healthy drinking water.

Nature’s figured out ways of cleaning and replenishing the water that we, and all species, need to survive. Forests, grasslands, and wetlands – in short, biodiverse natural habitats – do more than support fish, amphibians, reptiles, and insect populations. Their presence acts as a natural water filter, ensuring pollution in rainwater is scrubbed and the speed of water slowed before entering groundwater reserves. That newly cleaned groundwater becomes a resource that we rely on for agriculture, drinking water, industry, recreation, and more.

Contributing to projects dedicated to habitat restoration, forest protection, and wetland rehabilitation help ensure that nature’s water filters are protected and, indirectly, that the water you drink is safe everyday.

It’s easier to understand if you think of a visual example, like microplastics.

Recall that microplastics are buoyant in the water column, where they sit and attract toxins, before being consumed by some species, and move up the food chain.

In an ecosystem with high volumes of plastic pollution, we know that fish often carry high plastic loads. These fish may be consumed by a larger fish or bird, exposing it to plastic pollution. Or the tiny microplastics pass through drinking water filtration systems, and we drink it.


Swimming the World’s Water Paradises
March 18, 2016

This blog post is the first of a 3-part Swim, Drink, Fish series. The focus of this blog post is Swim.

There is nothing we crave more in the snowy, frigid winters in Canada than swimming in crisp blue water.

For those of you thinking of a spring getaway, we want to help you find some of our planet’s hidden gems. Read on for tips on what to do when you arrive and how to make sure you protect the water and its many inhabitants.

1. Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand

This lake is the third-largest in New Zealand and (Harry Potter fans take note) shaped like a lightning bolt.  It’s bordered on all sides by tall mountains, and the basin in which it sits was carved by a glacier. The lake boasts year-round trout fishing and the two islands in the centre, named Pig and Pigeon, are popular for camping.

Pig Island and Pigeon Island on Lake Wakatipu, NZ

Photo Credit: Loic Lagarde

Respecting The Beach

During the rainy season, Lake Wakatipu is at threat of flooding. Fire is the biggest threat to the Pig and Pigeon Islands, generally due to open fires from campers. If you’re staying on the island, practice fire safety. Remember also not to take vegetation or debris from the site and, of course, don’t feed the animals.