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Sauble’s sand cannot be replenished: speaker

By Zoe Kessler,
Wiarton Echo,
July 31 2017

SAUBLE BEACH – Each time a piping plover shows up at the beach, he’s saying “I need this place.” At least, that’s what an audience of about 50 were told at a lecture at Huron Feathers Presbyterian Centre in Sauble Beach, July 26.

Peter Middleton, a popular lecturer, former Director of Ontario Nature and former president of the Owen Sound Field Naturalists, gave a talk called “Beaches: a lot more than sand,” the sixth “Beach Talk’ of seven in a weekly speaker series sponsored by Bruce Power.

Middleton said Sauble Beach is composed of “archaic sand,” much of it coming from the Canadian Shield. It is “exceedingly old” with no source to renew it, he said. The seven mile-plus stretch of beach – said to be the second longest freshwater beach in the world – faces challenges including “material still being washed down,” blowouts (when sand is blown away until the sand surface reaches the top of the water table) and dune erosion.

“A well-developed dune system will help conserve the beach,” he said.
Middleton said the main elements of a beach were wind, waves, lake levels, stabilizers and source material – and talked about many of the creatures that live above, on and below the sand, including insects, plants and other living organisms that make up the beach.

The presence of lichens helps to stabilize the dunes, he said.
Lichens are hard and “cement the sand so it can’t move” he said. “If you walk over it and break that, now the sand is able to be picked up and moved.”

Raking also disrupts the natural system, he said. “Birds don’t do that. Insects don’t walk in straight lines.” When a beach is raked, it removes food sources he said.

Middleton spoke briefly about Sauble Beach’s piping plovers – who have been identified as an endangered species and are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

“They need the natural protection on the beach,” he said. “This is why a natural beach is part of this whole success story. But they don’t need the whole beach.”

After his presentation, the first question asked was about the current investigation and threat of a $300,000 fine to the Town of South Bruce Peninsula by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for the municipality’s tilling the beach.

“It can be shared. People can enjoy it. We can have dunes. We can have piping plovers,” Middleton said.

“Maybe a compromise is required,” he said, with acceptance of nesting protection for the plovers “during the time they’re here.”
Middleton acknowledged the situation is frustrating.

“People who are in the municipal government are looking at the economics. They’re not really looking much at the other aspect of it,” he said.

Municipalities look at their tax base and “they’ve got a number of things to look after,” he said.

The problem becomes, “they’re taking over our beach.” But who is taking over whose beach?

“I think it’s the fact that perhaps there’s something happening on the beach that they can’t control. And endangered species legislation is part of that,” Middleton said, adding other communities were facing similar issues.

When it starts to effect areas of “very high impact,” such as “down to the volleyball area-it can change behaviours on the beach,” he said.

“I believe this year the fireworks display was moved. So, now there was compromise. Whether or not it was applied by the council or people who were organizing it, it was compromise,” he said.

“It went on and people enjoyed it as much as ever. But it also allowed the plovers there.”

Middleton told his audience they were the ones who were “already committed,” and had power in terms of knowledge, finances and political clout.

And yet we say, “well, we’ll leave it to our kids, they can straighten it out.” It should be straightened out now. “We’re the ones who made the mess. We have the wherewithal, some of us more than others, but basically this is the powerful population group,” he said.

One audience member said she remembered as a little girl walking along the north end of the beach by the river.”What I remember is sand that was loose and deep. And it took a lot of effort as a kid to just walk through the sand. And I don’t understand what’s happened to that depth of good sand when now it seems like it’s all wet sand,” she said.

Middleton said with raking “there’s quite a shift of sand.”
He also said “there is now a noticeable difference between the north end and south end of Sauble Beach in terms of the actual level of sand. I don’t know what the figure is but there have been some interesting studies done and it has to do with compaction. So there must be something that has happened up there to create compaction.”
The audience member pointed out those at the lecture were an older crowd. “When we were younger, we didn’t go to the Caribbean,” she said.

“We never saw anything but what was here, so whatever was here is what we thought a beach was, which was driftwood all over the place that you got to go and collect and sometimes have bonfires with and all the rest of that. We expected that, it’s normal. But this younger generation who have travelled to pristine beaches where there’s nothing growing on them and that are often imported to create a beach, that’s what they think a beach is. And that’s what’s concerning. How are they going to learn that this is what should be preserved?”

Middleton said, “Technology is wonderful, it has all sorts of magnificent aspects -but it becomes a virtual reality. So they see that and they think that’s what’s out here. That isn’t what a beach is about.”

Middleton, who has traveled around the world acting as a guide to observe and interpret natural environments, shared related experiences he has had elsewhere where citizens worked to protect the environment.

He urged the group to take initiative and write letters to express their viewpoints. “Letters are more important than signing any petition,” he said.

The next – and last – beach talk of the series is “Coastal Ecosystems and Turtles,” with speaker Erin Lawrie, coastal stewardship coordinator with the Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation, at Huron Feathers Presbyterian Centre in Sauble Beach, Aug. 2.