Category

Conservation

Cleaning Lake Ontario’s Shoreline

ripley's aquarium shoreline cleanup

With water levels in Lake Ontario reaching a record high this spring, a large amount of debris has been washed onto our shoreline, polluting Toronto’s beautiful beaches and harming the wildlife that calls this city home.

Regardless of the origin, litter in the environment can have devastating consequences for wildlife. Animals mistake litter for food or become entangled in single-use plastic bags, rope and string. Litter can transport invasive species, or introduce dangerous toxins into an ecosystem. Plastic litter can break down into smaller pieces that are impossible to pick up and never truly disappear.

But, we can help! Aside from limiting our single-use plastics and disposing of waste properly, participating in a cleanup is the perfect way to make our shorelines beautiful once again.

Twice a year, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada participates in a shoreline cleanup to help clean Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Humber River. This area, known as the Humber Marshes, is one of the few remaining river mouth marshes in Toronto. As part of Toronto’s largest watershed, the extensive marshes provide an important breeding habitat for ducks, turtles and fish, and are a significant corridor for migratory song birds and monarch butterflies. More than 60 species of fish live in the river including such sport fish as trout, pike and salmon.

Over the course of the two-hour cleanup, 62 Aquarium staff and community volunteers collected over 86 kg (190 lbs.) of waste and recycling, including several large pieces of wood and a tire (rim included).

The worst offenders? Small pieces of foam and plastic, called micro-plastic.

Because of their tiny size, micro-plastics avoid filtration from city water systems and end up being flushed directly into our natural waterways.

BUT micro-plastics are not the only trash that end up on our shores. In 2016, these were the most collected items across Canada:

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is a national conservation initiative that provides Canadians the opportunity to take action in their communities wherever water meets land, one bit of trash at a time. Since inception in 1994, there have been 19,400 cleanups that have collected more than 1.2 million kg (2.64 million lbs.) of trash across Canada’s shorelines. Today, the Shoreline Cleanup is recognized as one of the largest direct action conservation programs in Canada.

A BIG ‘tank’ you to everyone that participated! Stay tuned for our next cleanup in the fall.

 

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Email us at deepseadiary@ripleys.com for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

 

 

Plastic Pollution: The Silent Killer

plastic-pollution-green-sea-turtle

Water is a key ingredient in our survival, however, we are currently creating a recipe for disaster.

Did you know Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada sits right on the shores of the 14th largest lake in the world and one of the five Great Lakes? Lake Ontario is home to 1 in 4 Canadians and provides drinking water to over 9 million people. But, did you also know that the amount of plastic pollution entering Lake Ontario last year equates to enough plastic bottles to fill 28 Olympic-sized swimming pools(1)?!

Most of the pollution that enters our waterways is a result of domestic use – specifically single use disposables, such as straws, cups, lids, take-out containers and plastic cutlery. From all sources, a whopping 22 million pounds of plastic pollution enters our Great Lakes every year(1).

The real kicker is that plastic does not ever biodegrade in our environment. Instead, it continues to slowly break down into smaller pieces called microplastics, (any piece of plastic smaller than 5 millimetres). Microplastics essentially consist of all forms of plastic – synthetic fibers, fragments of plastic, foam bits and microbeads.

small-plastic-pieces-on-penny

Because of their tiny size, microplastics avoid filtration from city water systems and end up being flushed directly into our natural waterways.

This is where wildlife is exposed to the pollution which results in accidental ingestion – commonly mistaken as prey.

Making ingestion worse, plastic is comprised of crude oil and carbon-containing compounds referred to as polymers and monomers. The chemical makeup allows it to absorb chemicals found in the natural environment. Then, after it is unknowingly consumed by wildlife, the chemicals leach into the tissue of animals.

plastic-pollution-bird

While plastic itself is classified as non-hazardous, the transfer of chemicals from plastic to animal tissue and then up the food chain can have disastrous effects.

And don’t think humans are exempt from the issue! With the consumption of seafood, we are at risk of ingesting those toxic chemicals as well.

Realizing the prevalence of microbeads and the detrimental effects of microplastics on the environment, the Government of Ontario has recently taken legislative action! Following common phase-out timelines, the use of microbeads in the production of personal care products such as toothpaste, face scrubs and cosmetics will be banned by December 2017(2).

But, while these are excellent steps in the right direction, they are not the entire solution. There are many other things you can do to ‘kelp’ us protect our waterways and the animals that swim in it. For example,

  • Buy a reusable water bottle
  • #BanTheBead and say no to microbeads before legislation
  • Say NO to single use plastics
  • The 3Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle

Together, we can all make a difference and help keep Lake Ontario, and the many other waterways on this planet we call home, clean!

 

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Email us at deepseadiary@ripleys.com for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

 

Sources:
  1. Hoffman, M.J. and E. Hittinger. (2017). Inventory and transport of plastic debris in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Marine Pollution Bulletin 115(1-2):273-281. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezpxy.fanshawec.ca/science/article/pii/S0025326X1630981X
  2. Ontario. (2016). Microplastics and microbeads. Retrieved from https://www.ontario.ca/page/microplastics-and-microbeads
  3. Penny photo – http://oceans.mit.edu/news/featured-stories/269000-tons-plastic-ocean-now-dr-marcus-eriksen
  4. Bird photo – http://www.plasticgarbageproject.org/en/plastic-garbage/problems/effects-on-the-animal-world/

Our Oceans, Our Future

world-oceans-day-2017

Celebrate World Ocean’s Day 2017 with Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada!

Working at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, I always forget how lucky I am to be able to immerse myself in the marine world.

Every day I get to hang out with stingrays, watch our giant pacific octopus paint and be mesmerized by a wall of jellyfish. But for most people living in the city, especially one as big and sprawling as Toronto, this underwater environment is considered a foreign place.

Being so far removed from our oceans, I shouldn’t be as surprised when a visiting student questioned why we should care about them and the animals that live there.

I wish I could say my response convinced that student to take care of our oceans. But alas, I was so taken aback when I responded to this question, I have no doubt my answer ended up being a rushed, hodge-podge of reasons.ripleys-aquarium-canada-rainbow-reef

So, to redeem myself and to help anyone else who finds themselves in a similar situation, here is what I should have said to that student…

“Well friend, in many ways, our oceans can be considered the heart of our planet. They are responsible for circulating nutrients and transferring heat around our Earth. Our oceans drive our climate and weather systems allowing me to ski in the winter and sit on a beach in the summer. Oh ya! It also provides me with HALF THE OXYGEN I need to breathe. (Pause for effect.) Our oceans supply not only non-living resources, but also a wealth of living resources. The big blue is teeming with life, most of which is consumed by the human population (that’s us!). Here in Canada, we are fortunate to be connected to not one, but THREE oceans! With the world’s longest shoreline, it our responsibility to make sure Canada plays its part to protect one of the world’s most valuable resources.”

I know this student wasn’t the first to question the significance of our oceans, and may have even been voicing what many of our guests are thinking. But in celebrating World Ocean’s Day today, June 8, this incidence seems to replay in my mind. It is easy to take for granted something so fundamental to our life that even I had trouble concisely explaining the importance of our oceans.

Just like the oceans and their significance can be overwhelming to explain, so can the task of helping to keep our oceans healthy. If you don’t know what you can do to help, check out this list of ideas to help improve our lakes and oceans and celebrate World Ocean’s Day 2017.

how-to-keep-oceans-trash-free

Looking for a way to celebrate World Ocean’s Day? Join Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada as we clean up the Humber Marshes on June 11! For more information and to register, visit our website.

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Email us at deepseadiary@ripleys.com for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!