Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
Your purchase helps the parks: revitalizing Killarney's aquatic ecosystems

Did you buy anything from our online Christmas store last year? In today’s post, Ontario Parks staff talk about some of the vital protection work your purchase helped fund.

Ontario Parks, as part of a broader provincial effort, has been working hard to assess and repair the ecological integrity in many of our inland lake habitats, protecting different species in Killarney and other provincial parks.

Why do lakes need our help?

During much of the 20th century, many lakes in the Killarney, Sudbury and Temagami area became acidified. This change was caused by acid and metal deposits from nickel and copper smelting and sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide released by vehicles and power plants that burn fossil fuels.

Acidification made these lakes toxic to fish and other organisms. Many of Killarney’s lakes were considered “dead” – they were so acidic that fish could no longer live in them!

Lake acidification affected more than just the fish, however; It meant the alteration of the entire ecosystem of each lake.

A big black bird swims in the lake.

Animals such as common loons, which depend on fish for food, were no longer able to reproduce successfully. Many pairs of loons still attempted to nest in Killarney lakes, but their chicks died before reaching adulthood due to an inadequate food supply.

Even today, there are still lakes in Killarney that are too acidic to support fish life.

But there is hope for Killarney’s ecosystems!

Following progressively stricter air pollution laws passed by Canada and the United States over the past 50 years, humans have dramatically reduced the prevalence of acid rain.

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Many of Killarney’s lakes have been slowly recovering over the past 30 years. This recovery is a powerful example of what can be achieved when communities and governments work together to address a complex environmental challenge.

Recovery Tracking

This year, with supplemental financial support from the 2021 Pop-Up Christmas Store and Friends of Killarney Park, Ontario Parks was able to hire two resource managers. Jaden Nesbitt and Jon Menezes worked in collaboration with researcher and Laurentian University master’s student Haley Moskal.

Their job was to visit 20 of Killarney’s lakes and replicate studies carried out in the 1990s to reassess how well Killarney’s aquatic ecosystems are recovering.

By visiting lakes, the team studied the health of the ecosystem from various angles.

Three researchers kneeling on a deck, studying a small fish they caught.

First, they analyzed the lake water, including its acidity, oxygen levels and clarity. The researchers studied and documented which species were present in the lake.

These included species such as mayflies, crayfish, minnows and larger fish. His work also identified organisms that have returned to the lakes without human intervention.

The team’s research and monitoring revealed some interesting findings.

The pH (a measure of acidity) of almost all the lakes studied has exceeded the threshold for reproduction of our most acid-sensitive fish species (lake trout). In some lakes, native fish like Pumpkinseed and Central Mudminnow reestablished themselves without help from people.

A very small fish, brown and gold, held in the palm of one hand.A mud minnow discovered by the team. Photo: Haley Moskal

By partnering with the university, we were able to study more lakes, process more samples, and complete more species identifications than either group could have accomplished alone.

Two researchers on a boat.  One is kneeling, the other is standing and leaning towards his colleague who is carrying an open plastic bag.  The kneeling researcher holds a specimen caught in a research trap.

The work is not finished yet.

Haley Moskal has now reached the stage of analyzing and writing her master’s thesis, based on collections from her last two seasons of work in the park. When she has completed her thesis defense, we will be able to share even more results with you.

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However, Ontario Parks has early access to their very encouraging results!

Three researchers sitting at an L-shaped desk, each looking into a microscope in front of them.

Still, these aquatic ecosystems will need a little help from us to return them to their natural state.

Fish cannot fly or walk like other animal species, and they may not be able to return through streams to acidified lakes. Humans may need to reintroduce some species, so Ontario Parks is developing a five-year restoration stocking plan.

Drone image of a canoe near the edge of a large lake.

The plan will be based on historical records of the fish species originally found in the acidified lakes, as well as information collected by Haley and resource managers. Reintroductions may include hatchery-raised trout or lake-to-lake transfers of native fish from within the park. Perhaps in the future we will even consider moving invertebrates such as crayfish or amphipods.

However, there is a process to follow before those reintroductions can occur. The draft plan will be subject to an Environmental Assessment, which will be reviewed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, indigenous communities, and made public for comments and possible revisions. Additional studies may be needed to demonstrate that potential donor lakes are sufficiently free of invasive species or pathogens.

Community Funded Ecology

You can help the park with its monitoring efforts during your next visit!

Ontario Parks Ecology, Biology and Discovery staff use records submitted to iNaturalist to track the health of our ecosystems and the species that inhabit the park. By submitting your own observations to iNaturalist, you help us learn about the park so we can better protect it.

Two Ontario Parks employees standing in a shallow river with children, looking down the riverbed.

This project was made possible by proceeds from the 2021 Ontario Park and Friends of Killarney Christmas Pop-Up Shop.

We are very proud of our environmental integrity and habitat restoration work, and grateful to Ontario Parks supporters whose 2021 online store purchases funded this work.

Help us do even more in 2023! Put the Ontario Parks online store at the top of your holiday shopping list.