Every summer, Canadians across the country head to beaches to beat the heat for some fun in the sun. However, beaches are more than just places to toss around a Frisbee, build a sandcastle, or splash in the water.
Beaches are sensitive ecosystems that are home to a variety of wildlife and plants—some of which are endangered. For many people, their idea of a perfect beach is miles of clean sand with no rocks, sticks or grass. However, this vision of a “perfect” beach doesn’t align with what a healthy beach actually looks like, which is why it’s important to not only make sure that these sensitive areas are protected, but also to educate visitors about them.
Blue Flag is helping to do this. Through the program, beaches across the country are working to ensure that Canada’s shorelines are healthy and protected for generations to come, through various environmental management and educational initiatives. For example, many Blue Flag beaches have successfully restored dune ecosystems allowing for the endangered Piping Plover to breed and nest safely. In Ontario, this small shorebird can be found nesting at Blue Flag certified Wasaga Beach and Hanlan’s Point. Bird watchers from all over the province come to catch a glimpse of this rare and adorable species.
Blue Flag certified Grand Bend Beach in Ontario and West Grand Beach in Manitoba are two examples of beaches with exemplary sand dune conservation programs. Conservation of these systems is important to stabilize the shoreline from erosion and provide important coastal habitat. Natural dunes begin as piles of sand accumulated over beach debris, such as piles of seaweed, driftwood, or amongst beach vegetation like marram grass. Beach debris and vegetation slows down or blocks the wind, causing sand to accumulate and create hills. Dunes take on a remarkable range of sizes and shapes, depending on the amount of sand available, the size of the sand, and the prevailing wind directions. West Grand Beach has sand dunes that are over 12-metres high!
As a requirement of the Blue Flag program, educational programs for visitors are offered at all certified beaches and marinas. For example, Wabuno Beach in Parry Sound has Beach Clean Up and Invasive Plant Removal days to educate visitors on litter and alien species on the beach. This beach also offers Shoreline Explorations that highlight the importance of protecting natural habitats for species at risk.
Here are a few simple tips that we can all do to protect these sensitive and natural ecosystems:
- Do not play or walk on the dunes
- Carry out any garbage your bring to the beach, including food wrappers
- Avoid visiting birds’ nests and disturbing the animals
- Respect the fencing and signs that the beach operator has put up
- Keep pets off the beach
During your next beach trip, make sure to connect with the natural environment – splash in the water, play with the sand, learn about the local birds, plants and underwater creatures, and take actions to support the long-term health of the shoreline.