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Coming to the rescue of McLaughlin Bay

CLOCA pushes forward with efforts to restore significant coastal wetland

McLaughlin Bay, which sits adjacent to Oshawa's Second Marsh is completely closed off from Lake Ontario by a barrier beach. As part of a new CLOCA restoration plan, the barrier will be breached in order to allow the bay and the lake to exchange water to help restore water quality.

McLaughlin Bay, which sits adjacent to Oshawa’s Second Marsh is completely closed off from Lake Ontario by a barrier beach. As part of a new CLOCA restoration plan, the barrier will be breached in order to allow the bay and the lake to exchange water to help restore water quality.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Sometimes, Mother Nature needs a helping hand, and CLOCA is now stepping in to do just that.

The culmination of efforts dating back to 2010, the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority is beginning to implement a restoration plan for McLaughlin Bay, the significant coastal wetland shoehorned between Oshawa’s Second Marsh and Darlington Provincial Park.

According to a report recently released by CLOCA, federal funding totalling $100,000 over the next three years will help restore water quality to the marsh, enhance fishing opportunities and improve plant growth and wildlife habitats.

“CLOCA is very pleased to have received so much positive support for this project from our government partners,” says Jackie Scott, a terrestrial and wildlife resource analyst with the conservation authority.

The funds are also matched by over $90,000 from CLOCA itself and in-kind donations from Ontario Parks, which is currently working on rehabilitation work along the shoreline of Darlington Provincial Park. CLOCA is also expecting an additional $20,000 from the provincial government’s Land Stewardship and Habitat Restoration fund in the next year.

The need for the restoration stems from a series of issues causing a decrease in the water quality in the marsh in recent years.

Specifically, the marsh is seeing increased salt levels caused by the dumping of road salt on nearby streets and parking lots for the office complexes along Colonel Sam Drive and the General Motors office building.

The elevated salt levels kill plants which, in turn, allows sediments to hang in the water table (without any plants to hold them down), which completes the circle by not allowing sunlight to penetrate the water which allows plants to grow.

“The water quality problem is very cyclical,” Scott says, adding that while McLaughlin Bay is sealed off from Lake Ontario, protecting it from the same issues of invasive carp as Second Marsh, its isolation causes other issues.

“Water quality in general stays poor because the bay is almost permanently closed off from Lake Ontario by the barrier beach, so the contaminants and sediments stay in the marsh rather than exiting into the lake,” Scott explains.

In previous years, the barrier beach dividing McLaughlin Bay from Lake Ontario would open in certain places periodically to allow an exchange of water between the two areas.

“At some times, this opening has been very large, staying open for decades,” Scott says.

However, as far as CLOCA is aware, this hasn’t happened since 2005, which is unfortunate because in that year, the bay saw an increase in fish communities and a positive impact on water quality.

As part of the restoration work, CLOCA plans to break down the barrier by digging a trench and allowing water to flow between Lake Ontario and the bay. The original proposal suggested attempting two breaks annually; however, Scott says the frequency is still being determined.

CLOCA is also working with GM to improve storm water management in the area and implement plan to reduce the amount of road salt being used.

Since 2003, CLOCA has been involved in studying these coastal wetlands and monitoring their health as part of the Durham Regional Coastal Wetland Monitoring project.

For McLaughlin Bay, the significance of the wetland is increased by its location between two other significant marshes.

“Large areas of wildlife habitat are very rare along the shoreline in the GTA,” Scott says. “Although it is tempting to look at Oshawa Second Marsh and McLaughlin Bay as two separate habitat areas, they in fact act as one for many species.”

Due to their proximity, many birds and other animals may nest in one area but depend on another for food. For that reason, the bay’s ecological significance is amplified by its position as a “habitat connector,” Scott says, and increasing its overall health is vital.

“If it could be restored so that it not only supports neighbouring habitats, but actually provides high quality habitat of its own, it would increase the overall value of the area significantly and may even attract more species at risk.”