Studies in freshwater reservoirs in Canada have found that over a tenth of all plant and animal species are ‘at risk’, namely labelled as “Threatened”, “Endangered”, or “Extirpated”, while more than 17% are identified as “Special Concern” (Martel et al 2022). One of the major causes of habitat and wildlife endangerment in rivers, lakes, ponds, wetlands, and reservoirs, comes in the form of boating. Both directly and indirectly, boats used for transportation, movement of goods, and leisure cause significant dangers to wildlife and affect the quality of water. Specifically, boating results in two categories of damages:
● Physical damages during movement and mooring to species and their habitats;
● Pollution, contamination, and toxification of freshwater habitats.
“Motor propellers further damage aquatic fauna by cutting and uprooting submerged vegetation, and studies have found them consistently wounding fish” In the first category, we commonly think of direct collisions with slow-moving animals, especially injuries caused by propellers. Motor propellers further damage aquatic fauna by cutting and uprooting submerged vegetation, and studies have found them consistently wounding fish.
The physical impacts extend far beyond wildlife contact with the boat itself: moving boats create surface disturbance in the form of a wake, accelerating erosion along nearby shorelines, and turbulence in the surrounding waters which upends the waterbed sediments and causes turbidity, decreasing water clarity and quality, thus affecting the underwater plants’ ability to photosynthesize and clogging fish gills . “Anchoring takes place indiscriminately, physically damaging the waterbed, while shading from the boat or piers may alter the hydrodynamics beneath” Both effects are magnified in lakes and rivers as opposed to the open ocean, due to the shallowness of the water and the small distance to the coastline. Faster boats, such as those used for recreational activities, exacerbate those effects . In the summer months especially, power boating can be so intense that the carrying capacity for safe boating is likely exceeded for a given lake. In a study of Lake Windermere, BC, the effects of power boating included a deterioration of water quality, habitat values, and drinking water intakes. Specifically, the examination of sediment samples indicated “elevated arsenic, copper and lead exceeding the 80% of maximum allowable concentration warning threshold”. Noise and visual disturbance is found to affect the psychological well-being of birds and their breeding.
Even while mooring, boats still adversely affect freshwater environments: anchoring takes place indiscriminately, physically damaging the waterbed, while shading from the boat or piers may alter the hydrodynamics beneath . In the second category of impacts, we have all sorts of toxic chemicals that leak into the water from boats, including untreated or insufficiently treated waste, fuel spills, motor and exhaust fumes, heavy metals such as lead, anti-fouling paint applied on the hull of the boat, and other pollution. Such contaminants affect the health of fish, inhibit algal growth, and enter into food chains eventually reaching larger animals. Also, boats used in multiple freshwater environments may carry with them plants and organisms from one to the next, which can significantly alter the ecosystems in which they are introduced. Overall, the polluting effects of boating cause long-term, cumulative damage that upsets aquatic wildlife that has specific needs for water temperature, light, pH, and cleanliness.
Some of the effects of transportation in freshwater environments can be mitigated by responsible boating use. Boat owners are encouraged to adopt the following practices:
Retire older boats that are prone to leakage and old motors that still rely on fuel containing lead.
Use caution and responsible speeds while driving a boat. Limit your speed to 10 km/h when within 200 ft of any shoreline.
Carefully clean up propellers and hull before switching the boat from one waterway to another to avoid transfer of non-native species.
Have a supply of rags on board to clean up oil and fuel spills as soon as they occur.
Dispose of used oil and filters through the proper channels. Boaters can find the closest facilities online or by calling 1-800-CLEANUP.
Be careful with portable fuel tanks. Boaters should fill them on shore, never overfill them, and secure and close them when not in use.
Wax often. Wax on fibreglass prevents surface dirt from building up and reduces the need for harsh detergents when washing.
Avoid abrasive cleaning tools. Soft sponges and freshwater applied to topsides should sufficiently clean the vessel.
Use natural and non-toxic cleaning solutions.
Choose alternatives to anti-fouling paint. Regular paint and wax or storing the vessel on land are viable options.
Avoid wake boat use during spawning and nesting seasons.
Use your depth finder, limit water recreation to designated areas or the deepest parts of the lake and maintain a minimum distance of 200 ft from the shoreline when using a recreational watercraft.
Become a local lake steward and a citizen-scientist: contact your local lake stewardship group to find out how you can help in your own area to protect the local ecosystems.
Living Lakes Canada
Living Lakes Canada is an award-winning NGO that facilitates collaboration in monitoring, restoration, and policy development initiatives for the long-term protection of Canada’s lakes, rivers, wetlands and watersheds. As a partner organization for this campaign, Living Lakes helps empower people across the country to protect threatened freshwater sources and biodiversity.
A leader in community-based water monitoring initiatives for almost two decades, Living Lakes delivers a range of science-driven water monitoring and assessment programs, from hydroclimatic, groundwater and high elevation monitoring, to shoreline mapping, biomonitoring trainings and water data storage and management. The Foreshore Integrated Management Planning program maps shoreline habitats along lakes to help inform lake management and protect lake foreshore and species at risk. In collaboration with Indigenous partners, the program aims to interweave Indigenous Knowledge and Western science to support resilient lake management. Through their National Lake Blitz citizen science initiative, Living Lakes equips volunteers across the country with basic monitoring tools to encourage widespread lake monitoring and help create a ‘snapshot’ of lake health across Canada.
You can visit Living Lakes Canada to learn more about their water stewardship work, and discover volunteer opportunities and other ways to get involved. Stay in the flow of all things freshwater by subscribing to the Living Lakes Newsletter, and following them on social media ( Instagram, Facebook, X, LinkedIn and Threads). You can also support Living Lakes Canada’s water stewardship work through a donation.
“Freshwater biodiversity is showing some of the steepest decline amongst any other
biodiversity. Over 84% of freshwater species have been lost since the 1970s; this is more than both terrestrial and marine species."
Georgia Peck, Living Lakes Canada