A Blue Flag for Lake Erie’s Port Stanley beach is a welcome beacon of hope.
Lake Erie was once a cesspool with vast areas scientists said were dead, devoid of the oxygen needed to sustain life. In fact, a notorious example of just how polluted the lake had become by the late 1960s was when the mouth of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire.
The dead areas in the lake were caused by nutrients, such as phosphorus, which created algal blooms that depleted the oxygen levels, causing massive fish kills. Governments on both sides of the border then signed water quality agreements and legislation to reduce phosphorous levels and other pollutants flowing into the lake. Erie is now clean enough to support thriving sport and commercial fisheries as popular species, including pickerel and perch, continue to rebound.
At least part of the story of Lake Erie’s clean water is the introduction of the zebra mussel, a species brought by ships from other parts of the world, which filters the water. But it is an invasive species, one of several plaguing our waterways. So, the Blue Flag designation, awarded by the group Environment Defence, doesn’t mean the work to clean our lakes is over. In fact, the 33 criteria measured to get the world-class designation include environmental education and management, water quality and safety services. We know our waters are still polluted by various chemical contaminants, many from decades-old deposits, and sewage (which leads to spikes in E. coli levels) and storm water run-off from urban areas.
Regardless, there is reason to celebrate Lake Erie’s first Blue Flag designation. Port Stanley is one of just 15 beaches and three marinas that gained or regained (municipalities must apply) Blue Flag status for the year. In Southwestern Ontario, they include beaches and marinas in Grand Bend and Bayfield as well as the marina in Port Franks. Perhaps municipalities with other popular Lake Erie beaches will soon apply for and receive the designation. It’s a great tourist draw, which is good for local business. Mostly, though, it’s a comfort and a reward for those of us who live, work and play in the region and who have been doing our part to protect and clean up the environment.
So, yes, the Blue Flag is only a beacon of hope, not an end. Let’s not stop.