For some time now, park staff have been wondering: why do some of our guests who come to visit natural environments feel obligated to leave their mark on that beach, waterfall or overlook after they’ve left?
At MacGregor Point Provincial Park, we have noticed some changes to our shorelines from well-intentioned sun seekers who visit our beach for a short time, but leave behind structures made of driftwood.
Our park staff and others have dismantled several driftwood forts upon discovering them on our beaches, which can be a dangerous task.
Let’s talk about why we’d prefer our visitors leave their driftwood where it is and some fun things you can do on the beach instead of building forts.
Don’t damage a habitat
You may be wondering what the big deal is and why park staff would care at all about forts made of driftwood on our beaches.
Of course, we are much more bothered by the trash left on our beaches than by natural objects like driftwood.
But in the case of driftwood forts, visitors to our beaches are simply not aware of the damage that creating these structures can cause on a beach that once seemed like a natural coastal habitat.
In addition to damaging habitat, these structures can be very dangerous and time-consuming for staff to remove.
Save the shorebirds; leave it where it is
Driftwood has not yet finished its journey when it reaches the shores of our parks.
If driftwood is left where water reaches, insects, arthropods, larvae, salamanders and other creatures enter and use the driftwood as a home and food source.
Shorebirds, which face many threats due to changes in their habitats, can be seen on beaches eating insects and larvae that live inside driftwood.
They also use driftwood to hide from predators and protect their nests.
Driftwood was left where it washed up on the beach at MacGregor Point, providing shade, cover and stability.
Some of these shorebirds will only nest on healthy beaches that have enough driftwood and plants for cover.
This type of habitat provides much more protection and security for raising a family than an empty sandy beach with a few decorative driftwood forts left standing.
A beach that lacks driftwood also lacks natural hiding places, making shorebird nests much more vulnerable to predators such as foxes, seagulls, cats and raccoons.
Shaping healthy coastlines
In addition to shelter and food, driftwood also provides much-needed stability in beach environments.
Driftwood stabilizes a beach at MacGregor Point allowing vegetation to establish
Driftwood is an important and free line of defense against wave erosion, which is vital as water levels rise. By leaving driftwood where it lies, the eroded parts of our beaches can be stabilized and restored over time.
This means that a few pieces of driftwood can shape the shoreline and create new habitat for a large community of flora and fauna. So while it may seem like the perfect material for building forts, it is much more valuable to those who need it to survive.
Rising water levels on the shoreline of Lake Huron
Leaving driftwood where it lies benefits birds, plants, reptiles, humans, and ultimately the ecological integrity of our parks.
To protect sensitive ecosystems, removal, burning or creation of driftwood structures is not permitted in Ontario parks.
Learn more about why driftwood is important here.
Are you considering building a structure?
ask yourself because We feel compelled to build structures or towers from natural objects when we visit beautiful wild spaces.
Making things with your hands can be a meaningful way to connect with nature; however, there are many ways to do this that do not diminish the functionality of that habitat.
A sandcastle on the beach at MacGregor Point, captured just before it was claimed by Lake Huron.
If creating something improves your experience in our parks, we encourage you to look for lower-impact activities that do not require moving or removing structural elements of an ecosystem.
Here are some fun things to do on the beach that don’t reduce the survivability of the beach habitat for the wildlife that lives here:
- building sand castles
- Taking pictures
- sculpt with sand
- working out
- tan or read
- bird watching
- paddling along the shores in your canoe or kayak
The shorelines of the Great Lakes can support much more biodiversity when they are allowed to naturalize.
Keep Wild Spaces Wild
To assist us in our mission to protect these spaces and help keep our staff safe, we ask that you consider the benefits of leaving driftwood where it lies.
Help us keep wild spaces as such without leaving a trace.
We want everyone who visits these spaces in the future to be able to experience and enjoy the natural wonders of our parks.
And if you feel compelled to build, ask yourself: how many creatures have abandoned their homes just so one person can leave their mark on the beach?
We know you’ll agree: it’s just not worth it.