Catching up with the Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup in the Lake Simcoe Region
By Sydney Margarit, Community Engagement Coordinator (Barrie-Innisfil)
The Lake Simcoe Watershed has been traditionally inhabited and protected by Indigenous Peoples. The Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup (GLPC) recognizes the Williams Treaties First Nations, including the Alderville First Nation, Chippewas of Beausoleil First Nation, Chippewas of Georgian Island First Nation, Chippewas of Rama First Nation, Curve Lake First Nation, Hiawatha First Nation, and the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation, as well as the Huron Wendat and the Metis Nation of Ontario - Region 7. The Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup acknowledges their historic connection and stewardship for the Lake Simcoe Region.
The Lake Simcoe watershed is home to over 500,000 people, many of which rely on the resources the watershed provides for economic and recreational benefits. As the 12th largest lake in Ontario, Lake Simcoe is home to over 50 fish species and a number of different invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, and plankton.
Lake Simcoe's waters drain northwest into the Severn River to Georgian Bay, the northwestern arm of Lake Huron, connecting it to the Great Lakes. Further, this water continues to flow through the Great Lakes and into the St. Lawrence seaway system, connecting it to the Atlantic Ocean watershed!
Cooks Bay, the southernmost bay of Lake Simcoe, is home to two Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup (GLPC) partner marinas that have installed plastic capture technology to help clean up debris in the area. Kon Tiki Marina, located in Gilford, Ontario, has been a collaborating partner in the GLPC network since August 2020. Kon Tiki’s comfortable laid-back atmosphere creates a welcoming environment in which boaters and marina visitors are treated like family. Kon Tiki Marina has shown a dedicated passion for bettering our environment. Kon Tiki is an annual support giver to the Lake Simcoe Conservation Foundation and has been a part of Boating Ontario’s Clean Marine Program since its inception in 1995!
Kon Tiki Marina’s sister marina, Lefroy Harbour, located in Lefroy, Ontario, has also been a partner in the GLPC network since joining in October 2020 with its own Seabin. Lefroy Harbour has been the recipient of various environmental leadership awards, and was the first marina in Ontario to earn a 5 Anchor Platinum Rating through Boating Ontario’s Clean Marine Program!
Marina staff at Lefroy Harbour and Kon Tiki Marina maintain the Seabins and keep them in working order during boating season and in doing so, helped to provide important opportunities to collect valuable data on the debris collected.
Lake Simcoe has two Seabin locations, one at Lefroy Harbour (red anchor icon) and one at Kon Tiki Marina
(blue anchor icon). These marinas are located in the southernmost bay of Lake Simcoe.
Microplastics are the most common items found in the Lefroy Harbour and Kon Tiki Marina Seabins. The top 5 items found in both Seabins during deep dive waste characterizations this season were (1) small fragments; (2) small film pieces; (3) small paper pieces; (4) small foam pieces; and (5) large fragments.
In 2022, our sites in Lake Simcoe reported collecting 297 pieces of plastic and debris, weighing 140g in total. This data is based on the detailed waste characterizations performed by myself, GLPC volunteers, and local students, however, it is expected that there is more plastic being collected by the Seabins on days when data is not reported or collected.
This past summer, the Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup brought on a number of Community Engagement Coordinators to build our team, thanks to generous support from the Province of Ontario. The GLPC Community Engagement Coordinators are located across Ontario - in Kingston, Whitby, Coburg, Barrie, Innisfil, and Toronto, working alongside marinas in Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe. Part of their role involves working at the marinas to help maintain the Seabins and perform waste characterizations, sorting and classifying the debris collected to gain further insight into what kinds of plastic are found in our lakes.
In addition to data collection, Community Engagement Coordinators are responsible for planning volunteer events, creating social media and blog posts, setting up information booths at local events and festivals, and creating opportunities for visibility in their respective communities!
My role as a Community Engagement Coordinator in the Barrie/Innisfil area has allowed me to work with community members, event organizers and students from my own community. From hosting volunteer waste characterization events at Lefroy Harbour to setting up information booths at local farmers' markets and festivals, engaging the Barrie/Innisfil area has been a rewarding task.
Through this role, I have learned that in order to contribute to the GLPC’s goals, we need to work together and include local community members in the solutions to the plastic pollution problem. Whether that be through educating the public or involving community members in volunteer data collection events, making this initiative visible in our communities is an important step in creating effective solutions to plastic pollution going forward.
I’ve been able to work closely with marina staff to coordinate waste characterization visits and volunteer events and to communicate regarding the status of the Seabins. Throughout my time in this role, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know some of the Lefroy Harbour and Kon Tiki Marina staff and can see the passion they have for the GLPC initiative and keeping Lake Simcoe clean and free from plastic.
Linda Ellery, the Marina Manager for both Lefroy Harbour and Kon Tiki Marina, is one staff member, in particular, that is strongly committed to keeping Lake Simcoe healthy and clean. She has been a dedicated Marina Manager for nearly 30 years on both Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe. For her, cleaning up Lake Simcoe means, “a cleaner tomorrow, for generations to come.” Keeping plastics out of our environment and waterways now and for future generations is a sentiment that is echoed by the GLPC mission statement.
Linda says she has found that for Lefroy Harbour and Kon Tiki Marina, the biggest impact of participating in the initiative has been “boater awareness of the Seabin technology and the accumulation of microplastics that have been collected.” She notes that since joining the GLPC “staff awareness of the program has increased their knowledge … of how species may be affected by plastic pollution.” Linda notes that once boaters and staff become aware of the Seabins and the GLPC partnership, they most commonly ask “when are we getting more Seabins for the area?”
People who use Lake Simcoe for recreation have a direct connection to the lake and a commitment to keeping it clean and plastic-free, and the individuals who frequent Lefroy Harbour and Kon Tiki Marina understand this.
When asked about the data the Lefroy Harbour and Kon Tiki Marina Seabins have captured, Linda said, “floating weeds are the highest contributor.” While sorting through a Seabin catch bag that seemingly only contains leaves and aquatic plants can be time-consuming,
Linda says that it is “rewarding when small pieces of microplastics are discovered.” She finds that “the weeds are the vehicles that transport the small pieces of plastic to the Seabin that might otherwise not have been picked up.” While sorting through the Seabin collections can be challenging, it is a necessary step for collecting valuable data that will be used to better understand plastic pollution in Lake Simcoe.
Through research, education, and outreach, the GLPC is gathering data on plastic litter that enters our waterways and identifying how government, industry, and consumers can work together to reduce, reuse and recycle material waste. It is folks like Linda Ellery and the dedicated staff at Lefroy Harbour and Kon Tiki Marina that actively ensure the success of this initiative. Without our network of marinas across the Great Lakes Region, we would be unable to capture a large amount of data that is necessary to help identify solutions to the plastic pollution problem.
Working together with lake communities and marinas to keep plastics out of our waterways now and for future generations will take a lot of hard work and collaboration between actors. Looking to the future, it is important to recognize that we will not come to solutions by ourselves, but will only find them by working together and continuing to engage in productive collaboration efforts.
Sydney Margarit is the Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup Community Engagement Coordinator for Barrie-Innisfil. She is a recent graduate from the University of Guelph’s Criminal Justice and Public Policy program. Sydney is passionate about promoting environmental awareness within her community and has enjoyed encouraging others to become involved in the GLPC!