Sauble Beach is more than just ‘a beach’: it’s a home

Community, Environment, Lifestyle, Local, Sustainability, Tourism

Sauble Beach is more than just ‘a beach’: it’s a home. This is what many believe to be true.

Every individual who visits the 11 kilometres of fine sand, nestled along Lake Huron’s shoreline, gains a greater appreciation for a special type of process, or system: a phenomenon that directly interconnects human and wildlife species. This process is famously known as a beach. Once an individual visits the coastal town of Sauble Beach, the beach is no longer known as a place solely for recreation, but a place with higher importance and significance.

However, there is a greater need to continue educating visitors. The process, as discussed, revolves around the sustainable balance through which nature and human life co-exists. The people who flock to this relic shoreline are indeed part of this divine process, and in order to maintain a healthy beach ecosystem, it is vital that these individuals properly recognize, and are aware of other species of which they share the sand with.

Beach education

Many changes have occurred within the town of Sauble Beach—one of those changes being a weakened tourism, or chamber, presence. The absence of such tourism body has negatively affected the overall state of the beach and has threatened beach ecology, especially at the base of the ‘Welcome to Sauble Beach’ sign, where most visitors downtown congregate. As Sauble’s tourism industry continues to exponentially grow, there are limited means available that enables communication with the tourist population in a manner that both; informs tourists of events and festivals, and reminds beach-goers of the importance of leaving the beach clean and respecting wildlife—leaving only footprints.

After the crowds dissipate on a warm Saturday evening, mounds of trash are left behind

Feeding the gulls: problematic

Outrageously high populations of shoreline gulls also trouble the beach. It is here where the importance of creating a strengthened dialogue between visitors and the community-at-large is recognized. Large populations of seagulls directly impede on the health of a balanced beach ecosystem, by the means of fecalating, or excrement. E-coli counts in local waterways and beach surfaces skyrocket on days when the gulls are most active. The amount of visitors who feed the gulls fosters the issue. In order for Sauble Beach to maintain excellent water quality, a greater initiative must be taken to inform visitors about the troublesome aftermath associated with feeding these species.

Visitors sit and enjoy a quaint sunset in Sauble’s downtown core

Beachfront parking: Erosion of finite sand and water quality 

Although the vast majority of visitors favour iconic beachfront parking, due to convenience and proximity purposes, the effects of vehicular traffic and parking on a natural shoreline are devastating. Considering the sand stationed on Sauble’s shoreline is relic (non-renewable in nature), or finite, the loss of sand, be it via natural or human-driven, is devastating.  The constant movement of vehicles creates a weakened surface structure of sand particles, thus facilitating the process of surface-sand erosion. Sand is, then, easily adhered to the tread of tires on moving vehicles and deposited inland, on local road and highway infrastructure. It is crucial to comprehend the sand particles dispersed on roadways have a substantial degree of contamination, and often pose as a threat to human and wildlife health.

The tread of a trailer’s tire, after a day parked on the sand

Vehicular traffic on Sauble Beach is also responsible for a large amount of coastal dune depletion in which moving vehicles tamper, disturb, or altogether uproot native dune species. The ramifications associated with a degrading dune system stretches far; from further sand and silt erosion, to excessive storm run-off and poor water quality, to a weakened biodiversity on this relic shoreline. The process of beach compaction, toward the beach’s berm, is caused by vehicular strain. In such cases, storm water run-off—after a detrimental rainfall—collects harmful vehicle emissions and fuels that are easily emptied into the lake itself; without much in the way of a natural filtration process.

A vehicle rests upon a dune

On-beach parking, within the northern portion of the shoreline in question, occurs within a 210-meter stretch of beach, north of the Saugeen First Nation boundary. These plots are privately owned, and the town of South Bruce Peninsula has no authority in its name. Upon speaking with one of the beachfront property owners, I was told that the land is deeded as a private parking lot. This, of course, means that the land recipients are legally entitled to use this stretch of sand as a car park. As the water levels of the Great Lakes have indeed risen, the condition of this stretch of beach—or parking lot—has been influenced in a way that is harmful, or rather immoral, to beach-goers. The ongoing practice of on-sand parking within Sauble Beach is unsustainable, and harms more than just the aesthetic appeal of the beach—it destroys the balance of local ecology in a way that will relatively harm human health.

Visitors lounge within close proximity to the water’s edge. Sand is saturated with lake water.

Some businesses on Sauble’s southern stretch of sand, however, also rely on the steady rhythm of vehicular traffic. What is left behind is a tension between the business community and natural environment. It is not a matter of; “How can the beach co-exist with my business?” It is, however; “How can humanity (my business) co-exist with a coastal ecosystem?” As Grey Bruce journalist Phil McNichol describes, “nature does not need to change; we do.”

Beach raking

Perhaps one of the greatest ongoing debacles throughout Sauble Beach remains the practice of beach raking. Synonymous to Caribbean-like soft sand, the process that is beach raking has been held at the epicenter of an unpleasant debate. Raking or tilling is a human-driven action which works to aerate beach sand. Above all, it compromises the natural process of beach rehabilitation—a process through which shoreline dune ecosystems are built.

Beach dunes, and other wetland ecosystems, are often referred to as “nature’s kidney” (Lawrie, 2017); for, they act as filters for the water-body they serve to protect. Dunes are a natural buffer, or reservoir of sand (Peach, 2016),  that, unlike any other device, works to reduce the effects of shoreline erosion—they are a timeless work of nature that can replenish sand on a shoreline, rejuvenate beach ecology and work by itself to sustain a future. So, why tamper with them? For the town of Sauble Beach, the answer is very simple.

A newly established natural dune system beginning to flourish, in northern Sauble Beach

Tourism is, in fact, the largest industry in the Town of South Bruce Peninsula, and any one of Sauble’s many business merchants would be more than willing to attest. Sauble Beach’s main attraction, for many, is the beach itself. The emphasis at Sauble has always been on the beach, and according to some officials, the growth of beach grasses is impeding on human enjoyment. The balance between local conservation processes and human enjoyment becomes distorted and the beach, itself, is unfortunately faced with the biggest downfall—a lack of ecological biodiversity in the wake of beach raking.

Can there still be beach raking? Absolutely, in moderation.

Wide stretch of beach where grooming is common

Humans must be able to interact with the natural world, while learning to protect it. The complete absence of beach raking does foster an unhealthy atmosphere for human use and enjoyment. The most valuable concept—in ensuring continued growth and prosperity among beach ecosystems and human enjoyment on a sustainable level—is that of balance.

Sauble Beach is undoubtedly something rare: it is a place with beauty unmatched by any other destination. The qualities Sauble showcases describes an extraordinary system that includes both human and natural occurrences. The given system is one humanity must monitor and adapt to, in order to live in absolute harmony within an environment alive with remarkable ecology. Sauble Beach is indeed a system that humans are a part of, but will our human actions be credited for the destruction of such a miraculous ecosystem in the long-run?

Joseph Gentile – Editor and freelancer of environmental affairs, TheLumberjack.ca.

Dune system at Sauble Beach. 6th St. looking south.

Photos used throughout the article are content of Joseph Gentile.