The ribbon of life

The transitional area between aquatic and terrestrial is a critical habitat for local wildlife and requires our collective small-scale efforts to reduce the effects of climate change.

by Kaileigh Nichols | photography by Spencer Wynn

Water, the resource we depend on for life on Earth is under immense pressure. There are many contributing factors to the health of water, far too many created by or made worse by human influences and practices.

The watersheds and waterways in the Ontario’s Cottage Country are particularly vulnerable to changes and pressures brought about by development as people move from big cities and opt to reside in Cottage Country (the Canadian dream?). With these new pressures comes greater responsibility to support wildlife and the waterways we depend upon.

As more people choose to set up camp along the shores of freshwater lakes in this region, critical fish spawning habitat and feeding grounds for fowl and other wildlife have seen significant negative impacts as a result.

Now more than ever is the time to act and do our part to mitigate changes in our environment to not only reduce the impacts of climatic changes but to ensure the longevity of our natural environment for future generations.

Sure, sure, you’ve heard this all before. Climate change is bad, blah blah blah. It’s all doom and gloom and the problems are way too big for any one individual to make a significant impact on a global scale without some kind of breakthrough – like a sea-garbage-collecting-machine.

The Ribbon of Life
Natural shorelines will improve the lives, both human and non-human, of those around you.

Here’s where I like to bring in the power of local community breakthroughs. You won’t be able to save the islands of Tuvalu – a 26-sq-km Polynesian country situated in Oceania that is basically already underwater due to rising sea levels – but you can work within your community to make a meaningful impact on a small scale to improve the lives, both human and non-human, of those around you.

Not only will you get a great sense of satisfaction by helping your neighbourhood egrets and frog friends, but you’ll contribute to the health of the local ecosystem and generally make the areas you live in nicer for you and your family for the long term.

Let’s not underestimate the power of our collective small-scale efforts in reducing impacts of climate change.

One effective way to improve your immediate surroundings, if you have waterfront property, is to promote and support shoreline naturalization efforts.

This so-called “Ribbon of Life” is the transitional area between aquatic and terrestrial and is a critical habitat for almost all animals. Seventy per cent of terrestrial wildlife and 90 per cent of aquatic species use this area at some stage in their life cycle for food, water, shelter, and/or breeding.

There are many different kinds of shoreline naturalization and successful techniques depend on slope, soil type, erosion and other factors specific to each site. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach that will work for every piece of shoreline.

But fret not!

In Muskoka, the Muskoka Watershed Council has a free program ( to help people in the region with growing concerns over loss of critical habitat within the Ribbon of Life, aptly named “The Natural Edge.”

The program’s free “Shoreline Re-Naturalization Starter Kit” comes complete with everything you need to start your Earth-saving project journey and includes:

• Free site visit;

• Customized re-naturalization planting plan for your shoreline property;

• 50 native plants including trees, shrubs and wildflowers;

• Coconut fibre pads to deter grass from growing around new plantings;

• Tree guards for all deciduous trees;

• Mulch for your wildflowers;

• Plant Care Guide with instructions on how to take care of your new plants;

• Habitat Creation Guide;

• Wildflower Garden Guide.

Not to mention the thousands of other resources available online to help you and your neighbours with your environment-saving-local-breakthrough project.

By actively contributing to shoreline naturalization you will make your waterfront nicer and safer to enjoy and provide critical habitat for local plant and animal communities and help to filter contaminants out of the water.

The simple act of planting along the shore will reduce erosion and increase soil stability thereby protecting the shoreline from future degradation. Native plants promote healthy ecosystems and support other native species, both aquatic and land-dwelling. Grasses and wildflowers increase the overall soil health whereas woody shrubs stabilize soils with complex root structures. Generally, projects with a variety of plants tend to be the most successful and are typically low maintenance, meaning less work for you.

Well, you’ve made it this far, hopefully this has sparked some inspiration within you!

What are you waiting for? Pick up the phone and call your neighbours. The world isn’t going to save itself!

Kaileigh Nichols has a degree in environmental resource sciences with a specialization in restoration and rehabilitation, and a degree in digital geography and GIS (geographic information system) and has been very active in science data collection. She is also certified in the Ontario Stream Assessment Protocol and the Ontario Benthic Biomonitoring Network.