Posted: July 20, 2022 at 1:02 pm
In June 2022, we interviewed Friends of Humber Bay to learn more about their weekly water monitoring efforts along the shoreline of Humber Bay Park West. Ro, Eric and Katrina shared their experiences about what it’s like to be a member of our community science initiative. Here’s what they had to say:
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity
Q1. Niki: To begin, could you introduce yourself and talk about how you got involved with Swim Drink Fish, as well as your current position?
My name is Ro and I have been interested in water, I think, all my life. I am a diver, I like swimming and enjoy all activities on the water. My scuba diving community really introduced me to Swim Drink Fish because about 5, 6 years ago when we started talking about diving at Humber Bay Park West where people just wanted to know more about the health of the water. One of my dive friends met Gabriella, a former SDF employee and he introduced me to her – there’s your 7 degrees of separation. In 2016, I met with Gabriella to do sampling at Harbourfront Centre and observed how the process went. In 2018, SDF was able to secure funding to test Humber Bay Park West. I volunteered immediately whereby they trained me and then I began sampling; mostly alone for the first few years as Harbourfront Centre was the more accessible sampling location for most people. Now I have many volunteers out west here who are very interested in helping and are also concerned about water quality. So it really all began with the question, “is the water that we are diving in healthy given the proximity to the Humber Bay treatment plant?”. Many divers had questions about this, and if we look at the averages since 2018, the water quality has passed 95% percent of the time. This year it has passed 100% of the time, though we have only sampled 3 times so far. I enjoy talking to passerbys, water people who have questions while we’re out sampling, and also cycling the samples down along the shoreline to the Harbourfront Centre.
My name is Eric and I started with Swim Drink Fish in 2021, last year. Working from home during the pandemic was interesting, we had national volunteer week where we were looking for meaningful things to do. We have a volunteer program called Benevity where you can log your volunteer hours whereby they give you money to donate back into charities, roughly $12.50 for every hour you volunteer. So last year I put it all back into Swim Drink Fish! My water story is that I grew up in Grimsby, on the other side of Lake Ontario. I love fishing, camping and just bought a kayak to explore the lake. We have a family pontoon boat that we take out on the lake as well! I brought my two boys out to sample and I think it is important to deepen our connection to water in this way.
I’m Katrina, I am an Environmental Professional and I’ve been interested in aquatic ecosystems for my entire life. We have a family cottage in Georgian Bay so my appreciation for nature started at a young age. Experiencing things first hand really got me thinking about the interconnectedness of everything and how we cannot think from a human-centric point of view, everything’s connected and our actions have an impact on everything; humans are the ultimate ecosystem engineers. I wanted to find an opportunity to connect with the greater community as my masters was working with an MOE data set so I had 30 years of data but I didn’t receive any hands-on experience. I wanted to gain some skills with capturing data and also connecting with other folks who have similar interests. I always admire people who live a life of service regardless of their motivations, mine tends to be toward environmental issues so I am happy being out here in a nice environment with nice people to volunteer.
Q2. Niki: Since 2018, have you observed an impact on water quality given the increase in shoreline development and recreational usage?
I will say, I know a lot of people who live in the condos right here. What happens is that a lot of people use this space, and feel that it’s their own space – this can be positive for keeping spaces clean but also challenging because they believe it’s the ‘weekend crowds’ or non-locals who are leaving a mess behind etc. At the end of the day, it is no one’s park, it is a City of Toronto Park and everyone is allowed to use it. Usage of the beach spaces has increased since 2018 once families started to realize how great the shoreline here is. People are using more of it which is wonderful! As per the new developments, we used to find a lot of construction waste in the water, mostly plastic flying off the taller buildings and making its way into the water. I belong to a group called Friends of Humber Bay Park where one of the members made contact with the construction company to work on mitigating their waste that ends up in our waterways. Some work was also done with the city counselor to reduce the frequency and waste left behind from fireworks. Increase in usage is a good thing, people feeling that the beach is theirs is a good thing, but they also must feel that they should share it and care for it. I don’t see more pollution now since 2018, in fact I feel there is less pollution as people have become more aware and connected to this environment.
Q3. Niki: When you’re down here do you get a lot of public interest and questions about the water quality, and perhaps any interest in volunteering with SDF?
You witnessed today that when we sample, I engage with the public and share the data and information that we’ve collected. When results come out, I also post the results to our Friends of Humber Bay Facebook group which can sometimes attract interest and volunteers.I will suggest to those who seem more inclined that they can volunteer with us, while I explain and point others to Swim Guide if they more simply ask about water quality. As for having more hands, more people involved, SDF is the magnet by which they might send volunteers to me. Maybe if we receive enough interest and funding, we can begin to sample the other beaches within Humber Bay Park.
Q4. Your process and training is very thorough, really dialed in and structured. Is there an aspect of the sampling process that is your favorite?
I like people. Especially water people; for example, the woman today who didn’t know what the cormorants were. I like sharing knowledge, educating and connecting with people, so that’s the exciting part for me. The actual sampling process seems to be the means to an end for me – the vessel that actually allows me to connect with people and further connect them back to water.
Hanging out with good people and learning a lot. Sometimes I may not be inclined to get out this early in the morning and go for a walk, but now I feel the obligation, so I show up. In the end I’m always so glad I start my day at the water, it’s so energizing. I’ve come out here in the rain, in all conditions and we always leave in a good state.
My favorite part has been the teamwork. You can read about the water quality in Toronto, the water quality, the development and the road salt, but it’s interesting to see the numbers first hand which allows me to feel more connected to it and to those I am testing with. It’s a nice environment to enjoy and to be by the lake with great people first thing in the morning.
Q5. Is there a secret or fun fact about Humber Bay Shores that you would like to share?
The divers have created a playground for themselves under the surface with some waste they have found over the years, like culverts you can swim through and sunken boats. There are lots of fish and minnows down there, like when you’re down south and there’s schools of fish – it’s pretty awesome. More on my diving secrets, I am a part of a Scuba Club and there’s a group in the club called the “once a month club” where we dive once per month, for at least 10 minutes to at least 10ft. Humber Bay has always been the go to place when we couldn’t get anywhere else. In the winter, Humber Bay is nearby for us to get in, do your 10 minutes and get out. That’s my diving secret!
I was kayaking one day in the lake and saw a head bobbing only to realize there are divers here and I had no idea – it’s a pretty cool secret! My secret is why sit on the 400 highway for 2 hours to head up North? A lot of folks seem to think of Lake Ontario as a big dirty body of water, but it is so clean and so accessible to us. It offers so much for recreation. I was kayaking toward Marie Curtis last weekend. When I arrived there was lots of Spanish music playing, a bbq picnic, someone parasailing – this is the secret right here. It felt like a vacation in my backyard with a big beach town vibe in the neighborhood!
I like to run, and I run in the mornings because it’s gorgeous at this time. I tend to only see animals along the waterfront in the morning. I’ve seen muskrats, foxes, deer, and snakes. It is likely not well known that we can observe all this wonderful wildlife so close to a big city and along the shoreline of our beautiful lake! Early morning runs are my secret to getting closer to nature.
I am grateful to have connected with this group to learn more about each volunteer, connect deeper with my local shoreline, witness the dedication to community science and to be a part of public engagement while out in the field collecting water samples. Thank you Ro, Eric and Katrina for your time and commitment to Swim Drink Fish.