State of the Bay ecosystem health report 2023
Every five years, the “State of the Bay” magazine provides a summary of the environmental health of eastern Georgian Bay, sharing information about key issues and threats to water, wetlands, and wildlife. The latest issue is available free throughout the region and for download at stateofthebay.ca.
Eastern Georgian Bay faces many of the same threats as other areas of the Great Lakes – including invasive species, climate change, and development pressures that interact in complex ways. To help monitor changes in the ecosystem, Georgian Bay Mnidoo Gamii Biosphere (GBB) and its many partners launched the State of the Bay program in 2008, with past issues published in 2013 and 2018. “State of the Bay is more than a magazine,” says Katrina Krievins, Aquatic Conservation Programs Manager for the GBB. “It is supported by a detailed technical report reviewed by scientific advisors and experts. The whole State of the Bay program is a long-term science communications and stewardship effort that helps coordinate research, conservation, and volunteer programs. It helps to identify research gaps and needs, and create conservation strategies. Plus, it gets key messages to classrooms, cottage associations, and councils.”
Using data from researchers, provincial and federal agencies, and citizen scientists, the magazine gives a snapshot of key issues in eastern Georgian Bay. The major themes and health indicators are related to water quality, the lower food web, fish communities, coastal wetlands, landscape biodiversity, and climate change. “So many people ask us about the state of the environment – how healthy is it? What is changing? How can we help?” says Becky Pollock, Executive Director of GBB. “The State of the Bay is really a tool to help us translate science into action. It’s a program that asks us all to be caretakers of the lands and waters that we benefit from, and that we should protect for all species and for future generations.”
Results show there has been an unprecedented loss of the nutrient phosphorus in the offshore waters of Georgian Bay, which has in turn affected the entire food web. Invasive species, like zebra and quagga mussels that are filter feeders, have removed key nutrients from the water, causing a ripple effect evident in the decline or change in invertebrates, as
well as prey and predator fish. The offshore waters of Georgian Bay are now considered nutrient-poor and can no longer support the same abundance and diversity of species they once did. According to Krievins, scientists have observed change over the last thirty years: “Lake Huron has undergone striking ecological changes in the past three decades. Most notably, phosphorus concentrations and productivity have declined to ultra-oligotrophic levels.” While the nearshore waters continue to support a diverse food web, many species have not fully recovered from the legacy of habitat alteration and exploitation. Warming waters and reduced ice cover, indicators of climate change, along with invasive species, are real threats to already stressed populations such as walleye and lake trout.
Despite these changes, there are dozens of partners and stewardship programs that are actively contributing to the protection and restoration of Georgian Bay. Communities are monitoring water quality, protecting wetlands, trying to eradicate invasive species, restoring fisheries, and taking action on climate.
“In 2023 we have taken a new approach,” says Krievins. “We are listening to science at the same time as listening to the Indigenous cultural perspectives that are provided by those whose ancestors are the original caretakers of this territory in Mnidoo-gamii, Georgian Bay. Two-Eyed Seeing is a concept taught by Mi’kmaw Elder Albert Marshall, and is being widely used in conservation to reflect both scientific and cultural values.”
The theme of the magazine is “Protecting the Great Lake of the Spirit” a name gifted by Dr. Brian McInnes (Waabishki-makwa) of Wasauksing, that translates into Anishinaabemowin as: Gnawenjgaadeng Mnidoo-gamii. The GBB team worked closely with cultural advisors, elders, youth, language speakers and artists, over many months, in a collaboration that represents the beginning of a long-term and continuous learning process.
Johna Hupfield, cultural advisor and Indigenous Studies teacher, explains: “We are in a time of change to protect land, language, culture, and stories. It’s my hope that we can bring more understanding and learning as we share some of these ways of our territory and Nishinaabek. Even my Anishinabemowin language adjusts for communities to remember what we’ve lost as we speak, preserve, record, and even write our words down. We are still learning, reclaiming, and processing so much of what has changed and been lost since contact. I know I must continue to pick up my language, share what I can, and move forward to protect what was lost.” Pollock adds: “Members of the Cultural Advisory Circle and the Georgian Bay Anishinaabek Youth (GBAY) have been absolutely critical in this process and we are extremely grateful that they are willing to help guide us on this journey.”
Thank You! Miigwech!
The program is made possible by charitable donations and is grateful for support from the Echo Foundation, the McLean Foundation, and the Great Lakes Basin Conservancy, as well as the Township of The Archipelago, Seguin Township, Pattern Energy, and numerous other partners and sponsors.
Please pick up your copy at locations throughout the Biosphere region or download it from www.stateofthebay.ca.