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A sustainable taste of our lakes and rivers

Updated 6 juillet 2021

I am of lakes and rivers”, sang Quebec singer-songwriter Claude Gauthier in expressing his love of his province.

Quebec’s bodies of water are a real treasure for all those who want to get in touch with nature, whether it be through swimming, fishing or water sports. However, our love for our lakes and rivers has become so widespread that it is now necessary for everyone to learn how to protect them. Heat waves, which are becoming more and more common due to global warming, will give even more people a taste for water.

What can you, as an outdoor enthusiast, do to take care of our lakes and rivers?

Here are 9 ways to sustainably enjoy our waterways:

1- Understand the territory before you leave home

It is a privilege for humans to have access to natural spaces, since they were not created for us,” says Annie Morrisseau, assistant executive director of Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles. This park is the largest wildlife area in the Montreal metropolitan region. Its natural spaces are habitats for 92 species at risk. The marshes, banks and islands of the park can be explored by renting different types of boats. “We expect people to understand the territory and to be aware that each of their actions counts to preserve the biodiversity of the fauna and flora,” she adds. Éco-Nature manages the park, and its team spares no effort in sharing its knowledge and helping visitors to visit the site while taking into account the consequences of their decisions.

Each destination has its own particularities. For example, to avoid inadvertently feeding wildlife, will you need to bring a bag and a rope to hang your food properly from a tree branch? Or should you bring a bear- and pest-proof barrel? The park agency you will be visiting is in the best position to advise you on what to do and what equipment to bring for trips into their territory. Before you leave home for your next trip, take the time to check the website of the park you'll be visiting to find out what to do. Or better yet, give them a call!

2- Plan your nautical itinerary

Planning your itinerary and validating it with park staff once on site is a good practice to adopt. This will allow you to modify your itinerary if necessary in order to reduce the risk of impact on sensitive species and habitats.

Let's take the example of the sand darter found in Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles. This species is threatened simply because of how its habitat can easily be disturbed. This small fish frequents the sandy bottom of the river. The recovery of the sand darter would best be promoted by avoiding stops on the banks to preserve their natural state. It is easy to change your route to accommodate this.

New restrictions or prohibitions on access to shorelines and islands may also be applied for conservation purposes. According to Nature Conservancy of Canada, the loon is not a species at risk, but it does require protected areas to nest and feed. Therefore, an island could be closed to access because a pair of loons is breeding on its shoreline. It is therefore important to obtain the most up-to-date information in order to optimize your itinerary.

3- Respect private property

When going out on a body of water, you do not automatically have the right to access the shorelines and islands that you pass. This is because islands, shorelines and land may be private property. Before you leave, be sure to check where you can stop along the way.

4- Dock without causing damage

Organizations that manage our rivers and lakes carefully install infrastructures in the least sensitive areas to minimize the impact of visitors on the environment. These facilities are usually well marked on maps. “People must use them to avoid trampling the flora or disturbing the fauna along the shoreline,” says Annie Morrisseau.

If there is no dock or pontoon, care should be taken to land on a bare bank or on a beach of sand or small stones.

Nearly 99% of the Canadian population of the American Water-willow is found in the Rivière des Mille-Îles. This endangered grass, as well as the lovely water lily and other aquatic plants, must not be removed in order to maintain healthy aquatic ecosystems. The passage of boats damages aquatic plant beds. However, they can just as easily be bypassed to maintain their integrity.

canoe and shore

5- Use developed sites

Some islands are designed so that visitors can concentrate their activities on durable surfaces. These surfaces, made of dirt, sand or rock, can withstand repeated use and retain their natural appearance. Islands that are not developed for hiking, picnicking, camping, or swimming should accommodate visitors who have mastered the art of moving and camping with minimal impact on the land and vegetation.

6- Take your human waste home with you

At Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, the regulations stipulate that human excrement must be brought back in a bag or a watertight container that you have brought from home. This is the rule in many locations where managing agencies want to avoid pathogens in human waste contaminating water resources.

The sanitary pit technique may be appropriate when it is possible to move 60 metres away from the shoreline and dig a 15-centimetre deep hole in soil rich in organic matter, such as the dark-coloured soil found in the forest. Do not dig a sanitary hole on the beach or in the sand. By checking with the management agencies in advance, you can take all the necessary precautions and ... bring a trowel, if necessary.

7- Protecting the well-being of wildlife

In general, animals that appear to be injured or ill should not be handled by humans. Instead, it is advisable to notify park officials of the presence of any dead, injured, sick, abnormally aggressive or troubled animal.

At Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, turtles are the object of special attention. In addition to protecting their nests, injured turtles are cared for and rehabilitated before being released. Often, a hook has remained attached to one or another part of their body. The park’s biologists take care of removing these hooks themselves. If a turtle is found in poor condition, it is recommended that you grab it by its shell with both hands and hold it close to the ground for transport.

Other parks may offer to help rehabilitate a wildlife species or habitat within their boundaries. Do not take any initiative without discussing it with the managing agency.

8- Limit the spread of invasive alien species

Invasive alien species are transported by boats or nautical equipment that have not been cleaned. According to Éco-Nature, “the costs associated with the damage and control of invasive alien species exceed $7.5 billion annually in Canada.” Between each trip on a lake or river, it is important to wash and wipe down your boat, equipment and footwear to completely remove aquatic plant clumps and residue, mud and organisms visible to the naked eye. Also, pick up any leftover fishing bait and dirt so it doesn't come into contact with the water or soil. Dispose of it in the trash to prevent reintroduction of these species into the wild.

9- Consult the Seven No Trace principles

Our Seven No Trace principles offer practices and techniques for reducing the impacts of outdoor activities on the environment. An adaptation of the Seven No Trace principles to water activities is also available from Leave No Trace Canada.

And now, it’s time to enjoy the lakes and rivers of Quebec!

 

Danielle Landry sees the popularity of nature and outdoor adventures as an opportunity to take care of Quebec's growing network of regional parks. Danielle founded De ville en forêt with the goal of enhancing Quebecers’ know-how and pride in the practice of responsible and sustainable outdoor activities. De ville en forêt is a partner of Leave No Trace Canada and the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, and a member of Tourisme durable Québec.