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  • Merri-Lee M.

Stories from the Beach: Sauble 2017

Sauble Beach has undergone dramatic physical changes over the past few years. High water levels (approximately 3 feet higher this year than last) have reduced the amount of beach area, and significant erosion has created “steps” of sand down to the water’s edge, particularly at the North end of the beach.

Frequent rainfalls during the Spring and Summer of 2017 have created marshy areas and small ponds between the dunes and the shoreline in many locations.

Over the past weeks, months, and years, there has been a great deal of discussion around beach raking and maintenance. Mayor Jackson has repeatedly stated that tourists and residents are outraged and upset about the vegetation that has flourished on Sauble Beach over the past few years.

However, there has also been information shared (through public Beach Talks and other venues) about the positive impacts of the “overgrowth” on various forms of wildlife, as well as on the beach itself. Many of the beachgoers with whom I have spoken have been appreciative of the natural state of Sauble this year, and of all the forms of life supported by it.


I would like to share some stories from the beach: stories that inspired me, and caused me to realize that there are many wonderful, environmentally-conscious people who make Sauble Beach a vacation destination, or a home base, because of the non-pristine, life-supporting features which this shoreline offered in the season of 2017.

One of my favourite photos from the Summer of 2017 was made possible because of one of these very positive encounters.

I was approached by a family -- Mom, Dad, and a delightful little boy of about 6--- and asked about the Piping Plovers which I had been observing through my camera. This family had come for a vacation from Montreal, and all 3 were excited to see the endangered birds. I gave the child (who spoke no English) my binoculars, and he spent about 15 minutes watching the Plovers while I chatted with his parents. At one point he moved along the shore in front of the perimeter, and the birds were a bit agitated. I called him over to the side again, and traded him the binoculars for the camera (which was stationary on a tripod) so that he could watch from a distance. All of a sudden the Plover that he was observing stood up to reveal 2 little chicks -- and the little boy jumped away from the camera and laughed for joy. No language barriers here! I quickly moved in and shot a few frames, then let him look again. I call this “our picture”:


I met another family early in the season at the North end of the beach before the chicks had hatched. They had come to see the Plovers, but couldn’t find them. The male from Nest 1 happened to be walking along the shore right beside them, and they spent quite some time watching him and photographing him, as he scuttled along the water’s edge foraging for food.

A few days after this encounter, I received an email through my website from the woman with whom I had chatted, and she was so excited to see the pictures..... she informed me that one of the young people in their group was from Hong Kong, and that memories of their “Plover Day” were among the best memories that she took home with her. And they didn’t even get to see chicks!


One evening while walking along the shore, I noticed a Water Snake sunning itself on the sand. A little girl was standing nearby, and I pointed it out to her and her father. They were completely fascinated, and ran to find the rest of her siblings. It was so nice to watch this family standing on the shore just ---- appreciating a lovely snake as it slithered into the waves and disappeared.


Flag Boy and his family chose an area of the beach that was perfect for raising a family. There was plenty of vegetation in which to hide, and 3 chicks fledged from this site. Many times, people were gathered trying to see the chicks, and it was virtually impossible because of the plants and driftwood that were hiding the birds. No one minded taking the time to observe and wait.

I stood with one family and their 2 toddlers for several minutes before we caught a glimpse of one of the fluffy little Plovers........

After watching for quite some time, this family moved away to their blanket by the shore, and I kept watch over the invisible birds. About half an hour later, the father approached me, and commented that I had been standing there for a long while, and must be getting hungry. He said that they had plenty of stir-fry, and offered me a bowl!


These are just a few of the encounters that warmed my heart -- and in some ways, restored my faith in humankind --- during the past season on Sauble Beach. I only met one man who said that he was “tired of looking at these birds”, and that it wasn’t fair that 2 birds were taking up the whole beach. ( I didn’t tell him that there were 18 birds on the beach that evening!) Many people took the time to thank us for drawing attention to the Piping Plovers, and commented that it was wonderful that Sauble was a beach that supported an endangered species.


Unfortunately, next season on Sauble Beach will be very different. As I compose this blog, a bulldozer is levelling the sand and removing a great deal of the vegetation. The Mayor is making good on her promise to “clean up” Sauble Beach. Work started last week, but was halted when someone raised the issue of permits..... we all knew that raking would be done, and some tilling was done in the Spring, but the use of a bulldozer was a surprise.

Apparently permits have been issued, and the devastating work continued early this morning. The North end of the beach, which was used successfully by the Piping Plovers this season, is the only area that was left intact after last week’s work. And, of course, it isn’t just about the Plovers, although the poor little birds have been blamed for everything from “taking over the beach” to “causing the overgrowth”. Many other species of plants and animals make this area their home as well, and use the debris and vegetation for cover and nutrition. Will it be left as a natural sanctuary?

A Piping Plover Chick Hides Under Driftwood to Escape Predation:

The decision to strip and bulldoze the beach has been made by a handful of people who have chosen to look only at the short-term advantages of their actions. There has been little conversation or consultation with "people of science" who could offer insights into the long-term effects of high water levels, climate change, erosion, and the irreversible changes that are being made to Sauble Beach.

We need to start looking at the “big picture” at Sauble.

Of course we need to consider actions that will be beneficial in the long term for residents and tourists. But how do we create a balance? How do we ensure that our actions and non-actions allow for the provision of all that is necessary for the survival of species like the Piping Plover? What, ultimately, does the beach itself, and all that depends on it, need to survive?

We are all in this together.....


*I have spoken with many people over the course of the last few weeks, and acknowledge that many of the ideas in this blog have been gleaned from a variety of sources. If I have used your words or thoughts or opinions ---- thank you for sharing!


On Monday, August 21, this complaint was called in to the MNRF Hotline. The person receiving the call (Karen) agreed to pass it on to a Conservation Officer immediately. I am reprinting this report at the request of the person who lodged the complaint.

“I am reporting what I believe is a breach of the Endangered Species Act, 2007, regulation 230/08, schedule 2, item 92, Piping Plover listed under the Endangered Species Act as an Endangered Species.

The town, starting on or about August 17, 2017, from early each morning until late in the day, destroyed a significant part of the Piping Plover habitat, contravening section 10 of the act, specifically 10.1 a.

They groomed, tilled, cultivated and bulldozed using all sorts of equipment and culmination in the use of a D6 Caterpillar Bulldozer.

They destroyed and modified the habitat from the water’s edge and into the foredunes, often encroaching the major dune. This culminated on August 23, throughout the day, with the destruction of a major dune reconstruction at the walkway at Sauble Falls Road and the easterly dune by the road. The dune was removed at the north side of the structure, from the easterly rock embankment protecting the road and cottages to the shoreline northward for over 300 meters. All of this stretch of beach and dune are in the protected habitat of the Piping Plover. I respectfully request that the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry apply an immediate stop order as per section 27.1 and also request an investigation by Conservation officers to ascertain if any further action is required. I also request an order to restore the dune system that was removed at the identified walkway at Sauble Falls road and the beach."

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