This summer, millions of Canadians head to Blue Flag beaches, taking advantage of long hot days. Bags are packed, coolers dragged, sunscreen slathered and sunglasses on. A day at the beach is a summer ritual that includes family and friends, soft sand and warm water. But with greater demand for beaches, we need to play our part in beach stewardship and learn about how beaches work.
Beaches are dynamic and sensitive ecosystems that are constantly changing and evolving in response to wind, storms, and tides. Currently, all of the Blue Flag beaches in Canada are freshwater beaches meaning that they are either “relic” or “pro-grading”. These categories define the role that sand, dunes, vegetation and rocks play on the beach. The Blue Flag certification ensures that beaches have conservation programs in place to protect these sensitive habitats. Below are two case studies of Blue Flag beaches in Canada and how they are protecting their ecosystems.
Wasaga Beach is considered to have “relic” sand deposits, meaning that the existing sand is the only sand that is on the beach. The rocks and pebbles found on the beach protect the sand from blowing away and washing into the water. As a relic beach, it is important to maintain a healthy beach to keep the existing sand in place. Mechanical beach grooming, a way of “cleaning” and “beautifying” the beach poses a threat to beaches, especially relic beaches as it flattens the dunes and removes dune vegetation; thus causing sand to permanently blow away. Due to the high amounts of recreational activity during the summer months, Wasaga’s beach operators have developed restoration plans including signage to direct visitors away from the dunes and nesting areas for piping plovers as well as beach grooming only in areas that do not affect these habitats.
Pro-grading Beach: Grand Bend Beach
Grand Bend Beach is a “pro-grading” beach meaning that the sand deposits are renewable allowing for the growth and development of sand dunes. Sand dunes are an extension of the beach; a reservoir of sand that the lake ‘borrows’ from time to time during storms, and carries the sand into the lake to form sand bars. Once a storm subsides, the waves gradually return the sand back to the shore and re-deposit it on the beach where the wind blows the sand back to the dunes. Dune vegetation is extremely efficient at capturing and holding sand, and preventing it being blown away from the beach.
Aside from dune conservation programs and signage, Grand Bend Beach also offers group education programs where students learn about sand dune succession and even plant dune grass!
What can you do to promote healthy beach ecosystems?
- Use designated paths to access the beach
- Do not trample the vegetation
- Bring out what you bring in; try a garbage-free beach day
- Participate in a beach clean-up
- Visit Blue Flag beaches: Find one closest to you!