Are human behavioural changes during the COVID-19 pandemic placing unexpected pressure on the environment? – News

We are thankful to be welcome on these lands in friendship. The lands we are situated on are covered by the Williams Treaties and are the traditional territory of the Mississaugas, a branch of the greater Anishinaabeg Nation, including Algonquin, Ojibway, Odawa and Pottawatomi. These lands remain home to many Indigenous nations and peoples.
We acknowledge this land out of respect for the Indigenous nations who have cared for Turtle Island, also called North America, from before the arrival of settler peoples until this day. Most importantly, we acknowledge that the history of these lands has been tainted by poor treatment and a lack of friendship with the First Nations who call them home.
This history is something we are all affected by because we are all treaty people in Canada. We all have a shared history to reflect on, and each of us is affected by this history in different ways. Our past defines our present, but if we move forward as friends and allies, then it does not have to define our future.
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August 5, 2022
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, health-related protocols have required people to socially distance and generally spend less time clustered together in large numbers or in small spaces. Many of course have spent more time at home. Others have taken the opportunity to spend more time ‘getting back to nature’.
Finding your own space on a lake or a river is not hard to do, but a group of biologists, social scientists, and engineers from across four universities, including Ontario Tech, are studying the impact the so-called ‘urban exodus’ has had on our local waterways.
“Early in the pandemic, there was a noticeable migration of people from cities to rural areas and cottage country, and some have even permanently moved to lake environments,” says Dr. Andrea Kirkwood, Professor, Faculty of Science, Ontario Tech University. “This extensive shift toward outdoor activities like boating and a boom in cottage-building has inadvertently placed new pressures on wildlife and shoreline erosion.”
Dr. Kirkwood and a collective of researchers across Ontario are pooling their expertise to investigate how these pressures are affecting aquatic systems, thanks to a new two-year, $533,660 Alliance Missions Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Led by Carleton University, the project is being supported by experts from Ontario Tech University, the University of Ottawa, and Toronto Metropolitan University. The research seeks to develop a stronger scientific base about what is happening to these ecosystems, and what must be done to protect them.
“The idea began after Parks Canada and conservation authorities in the Kawartha Lakes and Rideau Valley regions were flooded with calls from new cottagers about erosion concerns and complaints about so many people amending natural shoreline habitats,” says Dr. Kirkwood. “Perhaps most people don’t realize the negative implications to their waterfront properties when they remove rocks or fallen trees, or build cement retaining walls. Some are using chemicals to control aquatic vegetation, altering habitats for fish, frogs and turtles. Boats generate wave action that creates erosion.”
Once the researchers are able to quantify the scientific impacts, the next step will involve public education and strategies on how to guide cottagers and lake users on finding an environmental balance.
“Solutions could involve amending speed limits for watercraft and how far they should be from shorelines,” says Dr. Kirkwood. “Protecting our lakes and positive stewardship of our resources is everyone’s responsibility. The information we collect will equip local lake ambassadors with the evidence they need to drive positive engagement and willing compliance.”
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Bryan Oliver
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Ontario Tech University
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