Protecting Lake Ontario

Protecting Lake Ontario

  • 40% of the country’s economic activity takes place in Ontario’s Great Lakes Basin
  • 4,000 species of plants, fish and wildlife live it the Great Lakes Basin
  • 80% of Ontarians get their drinking water from lakes Superior, Huron, Erie, and Ontario.

Beachway Park in Burlington is a special place, sometimes referred to as the jewel of the city. It is a popular spot for walking, beach activities and special events. The beach itself is part of a formation called a Baymouth Bar which is a pure sand feature, formed through natural processes of erosion and deposition. These sand bars are often associated with large wetlands, which support large numbers of plant and animal species, as well as providing important rest areas for migratory birds.

The Burlington Beach Waterfront Park Master Plan identifies the Beach and primary dunes to be the most sensitive areas to development and that special precautions and rehabilitation efforts are required. Small remnant areas support native dune and shoreline plant species.

BurlingtonGreen: making a difference

BurlingtonGreen’s journey at the beach began in 2008, and in 2012, BurlingtonGreen received a grant from the Great Lakes Guardian Community Fund to organize and implement a stewardship event on the shoreline of Lake Ontario and to increase awareness about the Great Lakes and the importance of protecting them. Beachway Park on the beach strip was chosen as the location for this stewardship project.

In partnership with the City of Burlington, Conservation Halton and Halton Region, the work began on April 20, 2013, with 89 dedicated volunteers contributing to Green Up Beachway Park by picking up litter, removing invasive species and planting over 3,000 native grasses, shrubs and trees.

A second habitat restoration event took place on June 1, 2013, with more volunteers continuing the efforts. A massive amount of invasive plants were removed and another 2600 native plants added to the sensitive dune environment – the only one of its kind in Halton. Similar work continued in the spring of 2014 (2 more events), 2015, and 2016, for a total of 6 events altogether, thanks to the contributions of project partners and many hard-working volunteers.

An interpretive sign explaining the work and habitat was unveiled near the Beachway Park pavilion following the 2015 event with three more signs added to the area in 2016. Go for a walk along the Waterfront Trail and check them out!

We also created an informative brochure highlighting helpful tips for YOU to help protect the Great Lakes.

The Green Up of Beachway Park has contributed to the re-naturalization of a substantial section of Lake Ontario’s shoreline in Burlington. With the help of our dedicated volunteers, over one thousand square meters of shoreline has been restored!

What you can do to help 

Most of our water comes from the Great Lakes. For tips on how to conserve water and reduce your water footprint, we suggest visiting the following resource pages:

Reduce your impact

Tips for reducing your water footprint:

  • AVOID using road salt and fertilizers, and choose soaps, cleaners and detergents that are non-toxic, phosphate-free and biodegradable, especially if you’re using them outside. Always remember that what you use on your lawn and in your home could end up in the Great Lakes.

  • “ONLY RAIN DOWN THE DRAIN!”  Storm drains often lead directly into a nearby stream, or directly into the Lake. In most cities, storm drains do not connect to the sewage treatment plant. Anything that runs off your lawn, driveway, sidewalk and road goes directly (untreated) into the local water body. Never pour paint, oil, grease, unused pesticides or other household chemicals into the storm drain. These products should be taken for proper disposal to the Household Hazardous Waste Depot at the Halton Waste Management Site (RR 25), or dropped off during a special collection day in the city. Businesses should contact their waste management contractor, or a local hazardous waste disposal service.

  • NEVER release pet fish, turtles, restricted bait fish or other live animals into the natural environment. Many of our aquatic pets are non-native species and releasing them into the natural world can have dire consequences to the local ecosystem. Invasive species are organisms that grow and spread quickly due to their ability to adapt; they can out-compete many native species. As well, they can infect other native species with pathogens and disease. Click here for a great article with more information.

  • LEARN more about how to identify INVASIVE SPECIES along lake shorelines. If you see them, call the invasive species hotline at 1-800-563-7711. Click here for more information.

Get involved and help to keep them beautiful!

  • Participate in Clean Up Green Up – you can help remove litter from our community, participate in a tree planting event and more!
  • Participate in a restoration project with one of these local organizations working to create Healthy Habitats in the community.
  • Speak Up and share your voice to protect our Great Lakes.                  

Here’s some more information on invasive species of concern to our Great Lakes:


Challenges of the Great Lakes 

Even though it’s easy to feel dwarfed by the immense size of the Great Lakes, it’s also important to realize that despite their impressive size, the lakes are really a very fragile ecosystem. Human activity has been playing a serious role in the decline of the quality of aquatic and nearshore ecosystems, so it is important to educate yourself on what is happening to the lakes in order to know how you can help.

The 3 main causes of concern for the Great Lakes are:


Human impact has a dramatic effect on the health of the lakes and the ecosystems that surround them. The lakes only replenish 1% of their water supply each year. This means that the things we put into them tend to stay there for a long time. So, it’s important to think about how we use the water that comes out of the lakes and what we put into them.

Pollutants can be of great concern to lake ecology. Substances like mercury, dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that result from industrial processes have been released into the lakes for decades. Some of these chemicals and pollutants have resulted in decreased biodiversity in the Great Lakes Basin, even though much has been done since the 1970s to curb the flow of waste into the lakes.

In recent years, concerns over nutrient levels have been of the greatest concern. High levels of phosphorus and nitrogen can cause increases in algae blooms, which leave the lakes low on oxygen, making it difficult for native fish and wildlife to survive. Many detergents, soaps and cleaning products are high in phosphorus and nitrogen – always try to buy low-phosphorus detergents. Fertilizers that you put on your lawn contain these elements as well. Be sure not to over-fertilize your lawn, since much of that excess fertilizer can end up in the Lake as the rain washes it off and down storm drains. 

Along with all of the chemicals that we have known about for years, there is also emerging concern over ones you would never have thought of as harmful. Flame retardants, which are common in many consumer goods, have been shown to act as endocrine disruptors, inhibiting the proper formation of the neurological and reproductive systems of some species. Even pharmaceuticals – pain medication, cholesterol-reduction medication, birth control – are proving to be detrimental to the natural habitat in the Great Lakes Basin. These medications pass through us and are not removed by wastewater treatment systems.

Given that everything we put into the lakes will be there for a long time, it is very important to always think about what products you’re using – in your home, in your yard, at your workplace – and what you are putting into the lakes. 

Development pressures

The Great Lakes Basin is home to over 30 million people in North America. Nine million Canadians call it home, and that number is expected to climb rapidly in the coming years. Halton Region alone is projected to grow to 1,000,000 people by 2041, and Burlington will need to absorb its share of this growth.

More people living around the Great Lakes means potentially more water pollution if we’re not careful about reducing our impact through better living habits and workplace practices. It is also likely to lead to more pressure on the natural ecosystems that surround the lakes and their tributaries. We risk losing or degrading more natural landscapes such as wetlands, forests, grasslands and sand dune habitats, which are all vital for the health of the lakes. It is increasingly important for all Ontarians to protect and preserve the natural landscapes that we do have left in the Great Lakes Basin.

invasive species

The Great Lakes are one of the most diverse ecological systems in North America and are home to over 4,000 species of plants and animals, yet that diversity is not easy to maintain – there are always invaders ‘knocking on the door’. They are species that come from other parts of the world that have no natural predators or controls here in the Great Lakes Basin – species that threaten its rich biodiversity.

They have arrived here over the years clinging to boats, from foreign ships dumping their ballast water, through movement of wood from one region to another, and from people importing and planting trees and plants for aesthetic appeal in yards and gardens.

Invasive species have been identified as the second most significant threat to biodiversity, second only to habitat loss. When these species establish themselves in a place where natural controls do not exist (eg. other species, certain climatic and growing conditions), the results can be catastrophic for native species of plants and animals. One of the most important things you can do for your Great Lakes is learn how to identify invasive species and report them any time you see them. Through early reporting, you could potentially stop them from spreading and causing significant damage to natural ecosystems