Research and Projects

Ecosystems. Georgian Bay features a large number of coastal wetlands, considered to be among the most productive and diverse ecosystems on Earth, and which support a wider array of species than is found in most other parts of the Great Lakes. In recognition of its environmental significance Georgian Bay is cradled between two UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves. This jewel in the Great Lakes crown, however, is at greater risk than ever before. Persistent and increasing stressors such as overuse, climate change, including global warming and extreme weather, as well as invasive species, pollution, toxic substances and contaminants are all having a dramatic impact on the health of The Bay.

It is so critical that we do everything we can to properly preserve, manage and protect the ecosystems of Georgian Bay.

Our Mandate
If we want Georgian Bay and the Lakes to be viable over the long term, we must become careful and conscientious stewards, using a well-planned, thoughtful and systemic approach to keeping them healthy, safe and secure for generations to come.

This is our mandate at Georgian Bay Forever. We know that the Great Lakes, especially Lake Michigan-Huron and Georgian Bay, are at great risk. We are deeply concerned about the threats evident to even the most casual observer: threats to water quality, water quantity/levels, biodiversity and ecosystems. Like many of the world’s remaining freshwater lakes, our Great Lakes are highly vulnerable to the pressures and stresses of human development, including climate change.

Our goal? To preserve and protect the water of Georgian Bay and the creatures it is home to with thorough scientific process and research that answers and raises important questions to get to the right solutions. In the process, we also protect our health, safety and quality of life, which, like the region’s economic future, all rely heavily on the permanent presence, quantity and quality of these essential waters.

Here are the projects we are tackling around ecosystems:

Ongoing: Community-based invasvie Phragmites control project
GBF has been working with communities to remove invasive Phragmites from coastal shorelines and wetlands for 6 years and counting (over 103,000 kg. removed). This invasive plant grows into dense and tall mono-culture walls that threaten plant biodiversity, habitat, the proper functioning of wetlands, and enjoyment of the natural shoreline. If left, invasive Phragmites has incredible ability to spread and it has not natural predators.

We continue to work with well over 20 communities and like-minded organizations from the North Channel to the South including communities like Collingwood and Honey Harbour to help them identify, map, and remove invasive Phragmites.

We are actively seeking and determined to respond to requests from other residents and communities in Georgian Bay to help them deal with this dangerous threat to our coastlines and wetlands. Please contact us at to learn more about how you can become a Phragbuster.

Learn More: The Process Steps for Invasive Phragmites Removal in Georgian Bay Wetlands
Learn More: Quick Video Intro to Phrag and Georgian Bay, 5 min video from 2018
Learn More: How to Map Invasive Phragmites
Learn More: 5 Tips to Identify Invasive Phragmites
Learn More: Understand Phragmites in this wonderful Penny Skelton TV Show (1hr) featuring GBF’s David Sweetnam
Learn More: A Summary of Georgian Bay Forever’s Information on Invasive Phragmites

Reach of Georgian Bay Forever Phragmites Activities as of 2017

Ongoing:Divert and Capture. To divert microplasticsfrom aquatic ecosystems and out of our precious water.

Ongoing: GBF is partnering with the Rochman Lab from the University of Toronto to undertake a 3 year Canadian field study designed to halt microfibres, a type of microplastics, from escaping washing machines and ultimately ending up in our lakes like Georgian Bay. There is much research to be done on the impacts of microplastics to wildlife and human health, but they are found in increasing and alarming numbers in The Great Lakes, in our tap water, and in many species.

Status – Starting Fall 2018: This project is expected to take 3 years. There will be updates on GBF platforms (website, social media, emails etc.) We are still actively seeking donations for the project to extend its reach.

Learn more about this project and how you can help. Link to: Microplastics Information and more about the Project.
27 Min Video On Microplastics. Presented by Dr. Rochman from the Rochman Lab from the University of Toronto. Link to Video.

With great thanks to these funders:

This project was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada through the federal Department of Environment and Climate Change. Ce projet a été realisé avec l’appui financier du gouvernement du Canada agissant par l’entremise du ministère fédéral de l’Environnement et du Changement climatique.
Further funding and assistance for Divert and Capture: The fight to keep microplastics out of our water, was provided by the RBC Foundation, Patagonia, the Helen McCrea Peacock Foundation, and our many passionate donors.

GBF wishes to acknowledge the support of these partners:
The Rochman Laboratory at the University of Toronto, the Town of Parry Sound, the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, and our many community volunteers!

Ongoing: Research that examines the effects of Net-Pen Aquaculture in Georgian Bay
We are partnering with the University of Guelph to determine the effects of net-pen aquaculture on local ecosystem structure and function, particularly local native fish populations.

Learn More: Examining the impacts
Past Research, learn More: In 2017, we asked the University of Guelph to compile and summarize past Cage Aquaculture research. Here is the report: Freshwater Aquaculture: A Review of the Environmental Implications

Ongoing: DNA barcoding to have a record of the aquatic biodiversity that scientists can use to save it

Status: Started in 2012 and will continue for several years

The DNA barcoding sample collection project with Guelph University is allowing us to rapidly and precisely identify all living organisms and species in Georgian Bay. This essential inventory is helping to build the International Bar Code of Life database, a valuable global biodiversity catalogue for scientists all over the world. Knowing what lives in The Bay will help us to monitor the impact of ecosystem changes in diversity over time and identify hot spots more easily. GBF has spent the last five years closely monitoring the state and health of The Bay’s wetlands.

Learn more: Aquatic ecosystems and DNA barcoding, monitoring Georgian Bay biodiversity

Completed, ongoing relevance. NASA Wetlands Inventory Study
Completed – 2015
Full report

Through our partnership with NASA and the Great Lakes St.Lawrence Cities Initiative (GLSLCI), we are monitoring changes from space using satellite technology to The Bay’s wetlands that occurred from extreme high to extreme lows during the period 1987 to 2013.

The results showed a net loss of 3.8% to wetlands, with a 7% wetland gain in North and a 10.8% wetland loss in South. The loss of wetlands in the South from low water levels decreases the habitat for native fish and birds that are already stressed from increased shoreline development. Most climatologists project continued declines in water levels and probable low water extremes with possibilities of short term highs for Georgian Bay in the future.

Learn More: Summary of NASA DEVELOP report with videos and pictures
Learn More: Managing Water Levels in the Great Lakes: The Search for New Solutions
Learn More: GBF Interview – wetland ecologist, Dr. Janice Gilbert, gives her perspective on threats for wetlands due to climate change

Waiting for Final Report: Georgian Bay tributaries fish habitat assessment
Georgian Bay Forever is a project partner to the Eastern Georgian Bay Stewardship Council (EGBSC) and is assisting with field work, bathymetry mapping and water transportation for fellow scientists and project partners. Walleye, Lake Sturgeon and Sucker species are in decline in certain areas of Eastern Georgian Bay. EGBSC was awarded $225,000 to survey 10 tributaries within the Parry Sound District and assess the suitability of spawning, rearing, nursery and foraging habitat for these species.

Learn More: Bringing hope to eastern Georgian Bay fish
Learn More: Restoring Fish Passage in the Shebeshekong River

Ongoing: Reporting on the State of the Bay
We partnered as well with the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve and other organizations to deliver a series of talks as well as produced a report entitled The State of the Bay on how to take care of The Bay’s fragile coastline and protect our waters. The report will be updated and reissued every 4-5 years.

Learn More: 2018 State of the Bay

Looking toward the future, we will continue to focus on these key priorities of coastal wetlands protection and restoration, biodiversity monitoring, ongoing water quality monitoring and testing, as well as invasive species and water levels monitoring.