Shoreline restoration vital to mitigate impacts of climate change

Plans to restore degraded shorelines along the Thunder Bay waterfront are a natural fit for climate action and education.

During the Northwest Climate Gathering, participants toured waterfront restoration sites in the Thunder Bay “area of concern” to discuss how shoreline restoration can enhance ecosystem services such as habitat diversity, stormwater retention and infiltration, and infrastructure protection from changing lake levels and erosion. These restoration goals also provide a buffer from coastal zone impacts that can be expected from a changing climate, and a changing Lake Superior.

Before the development of shipping and industrialization, the Thunder Bay waterfront consisted of large wetland areas and river deltas with diverse habitats and a resilient transition zone between the aquatic and terrestrial environments. Current restoration site designs, therefore, restore natural transition zones adjacent to infrastructure and waterfront development projects to improve public access and education and allow for habitat connectivity between natural and restored spaces.

Restoration areas are coordinated through a partnership between the Lakehead Region Conservation Authority, the City of Thunder Bay, Confederation College, Lakehead University, the North Shore Steelhead Association, Wilderness North and Fort William First Nation. Project concepts include both restoration and climate action thinking.

The Superior Fine Papers Restoration will clear industrial debris/materials, monitor contaminants, remove compact and impervious services and create wetland habitat and a creek restoration for improved fish habitat and shoreline connectivity.

The Current River Fisherman’s Park Restoration is focused on increasing fish, wildlife and pollinator habitat for improved diversity and experimenting with grassland prairie habitat, shoreline improvement and wetland creation.

The Pool 6 Restoration site provides enhanced riparian buffers along the shoreline of two industrial properties, stormwater bioretention and additional wetland features on an active development site. Restoration and climate education provide land-based opportunities and public access to the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, the potential Science North site, and the Viking Cruise docking area.

The McVicar Creek mouth to Richardson’s Terminal shoreline includes many industrial sites and hardened shorelines that will benefit from both stormwater management and habitat features that reduce run-off into the lake. The restorative actions are integrated within the proposed waterfront trail development for public access and education.

The Fort William First Nation has prioritized several restoration sites along the Kaministiquia River waterways to clean up industrial debris, mitigate erosion and increase habitat connectivity. Public access to the river is a key priority, as well as improvement to fish and wildlife habitat.

Climate adaptation for the future by communities of Lake Superior must be woven into the fabric of existing capacities and everyday actions. Yet we are still trying to effectively clean up the degraded shorelines left behind from our industrial past.

A Habitat Restoration Strategy provides the opportunity to sync restoration goals with climate mitigation and adaptation. Furthermore, the economic and training benefits from large restoration projects, combined with improved social relationships at the coastal zone, can enhance community resilience to a changing Lake Superior.

Robert Stewart is an associate professor in the Department of Geography and the Environment at Lakehead University whose research and teaching focuses on Lake Superior, water security and coastal zone management in the Great Lakes Basin. Rob has contributed to the North Shore of Lake Superior Remedial Action Plans since 2008. He recently drafted the Thunder Bay Area of Concern Habitat Restoration Strategy, which can be found online at Hope And Action is a series of columns from participants in the Northwest Climate Gathering: Hope and Action, held Nov. 25-26, 2023, in Thunder Bay.

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