Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
Why driftwood is important - Parks Blog

Today’s post comes from Laura Myers, former Neys Provincial Park Senior Interpreter.

Driftwood: It’s a great bench to watch the sunset, a balance beam to play on, or that perfect prop for your photography.

There’s something about driftwood that gives beaches that rugged beauty factor. Walking on the beach, listening to the waves and birds, and looking at the different pieces of driftwood can be wonderful and relaxing.

Has a piece of driftwood ever caught your eye and made you wonder where it originally came from? How did it get so far on the beach? The size of the wave that put it there? What species of tree or how old is it?

Each piece of driftwood has its own journey and its own story. But his story doesn’t end when he appears on the beach.

Ecological benefits of driftwood

A unique piece of driftwood in Neys Provincial Park. A unique piece of driftwood in Neys Provincial Park

From an ecological point of view, driftwood is an essential component of beach ecosystems. From the skeleton of an entire tree to a pebble-sized piece of driftwood, each piece of driftwood provides a benefit to the beach ecosystem.

Driftwood provides stability to the sandy beach environment. With winds and waves, beaches are constantly changing and experiencing natural disturbances. Like edging you build around a garden, driftwood helps keep sand in place and allows plants to take root.

Beach Pea, Lathyrus japonicas, grows on the sandy beaches of the Great Lakes.beach pea (Lathyrus japonicas) grows on the sandy beaches of the Great Lakes

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Driftwood also retains moisture, like garden mulch. It creates shade and adds nutrients in an otherwise dry and hot environment.

Do animals use driftwood?

Do you notice the footprints in the sand? Do you notice the footprints in the sand?

Next time you’re at the beach, carefully pass over a piece of driftwood to see what lives underneath.

You will be able to discover insects, arthropods, larvae, salamanders and other small creatures. Driftwood is like an apartment building for a variety of small animals, some so small the naked eye can’t even see them.

Make sure you roll the driftwood back carefully, just as you found it.

Shorebirds depend on driftwood for nesting, feeding, and shelter. Some shorebirds nest on beaches and use driftwood as protection and camouflage for their nests. Shorebirds can often be seen quickly munching on insects and other small animals among the floating trees and plants along the shoreline.

A shorebird standing on a bank of decomposed driftwood.

Partially submerged driftwood also provides habitat for aquatic species of plants, invertebrates, fish, and other animals.

Where does all the driftwood come from?

As streams and rivers change flow and lake levels rise and fall, erosion occurs along the water’s edge. Because of this, trees can fall into the water.

Some driftwood is created by beavers; Look for teeth marks on the chewed ends of branches and trunks.

Logging has also created some of the driftwood that ends up on our beaches.

Driftwood scattered along the beach of Neys Provincial Park.Driftwood scattered on the beach

Driftwood is an important piece of the puzzle in the overall ecosystem. For this reason, our provincial parks generally do not remove driftwood from their beaches.

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To protect these ecosystems, removing, burning or creating driftwood structures is not permitted in provincial parks.

Sometimes thoughts like these may cross your mind: “there’s too much driftwood and not enough room for my picnic blanket” or “hey, this driftwood would make great firewood.”

But remember: driftwood is important to the species that inhabit our parks. Leave it where it is.