Environmental advocate brings paddle board and passion to Lake Ontario

ON HER WAY- A Greener Future Executive Director and Love your Lake organizer Rachel Byrne departs from Northport on Sunday morning. Byrne is paddling 420 km from Kingston to Niagara-on-the-lake as part of of the 2020 Love your Lake clean up campaign. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)



The Executive Director and founder of an environmental preservation not-for-profit group that does work and advocates across Ontario made a stop in Prince Edward County this weekend as part of her month-long, 420 km stand up paddle (SUP) board trek from Kingston to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

In a typical year, Rachel Bryne of A Greener Future would be organizing a series of 100 or more litter cleanups long the shores of Lake Ontario entitled Love Your Lake. In fact, Byrne was joined by the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell  Lieutenant Governor of Ontario just over a year ago at Wellington Rotary Beach as part of the 2019 Love Your Lake campaign.

But in 2020, Byrne and her environmental advocacy concern decided to take the Love your Lake campaign a step further and, in addition to the 100 cleanups on land, she’s also chosen to take to the water.

A Greener Future Executive Director Rachel Byrne. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

Byrne explained this new component of Love Your Lake will bridge outdoor recreation and environmental stewardship, to help raise awareness about plastic pollution in Lake Ontario prior to launching her paddle board at Northport Centennial Park boat launch on Sunday morning after staying the night in Prince Edward County.

Departing the Limestone City on Canada Day, Byrne’s paddle brought her west along along the north side of Amherst Island, Adolphustown and Glenora into Picton Bay and northwards through Hayward Long Reach.

Prior to paddling on to Belleville on Sunday, Byrne spoke with the media about her journey so far and what inspired here to traverse the north shore of Lake Ontario on an SUP.

“Because of COVID 19, we can’t have public clean ups and a lot of the public beaches along the shore are closed because there are limited public gatherings. We’ve completed as many cleanups as we could on a limited basis but we thought it would be interesting to paddle along the water and pick up any garbage I might find along the way,” Byrne told the Gazette.

In a handful of days paddling, Byrne had yet to locate any garbage however that most likely meant any flotsam had already washed ashore.

While ‘Loving your lake’ might be a catchy slogan, the quality of water in Lake Ontario should concern everyone in its vicinity.

Byrne said  many people don’t realize that Lake Ontario supplies drinking water to over nine million people and it’s much easier to keep the water clean than it is to clean it after it’s been contaminated or polluted.

“I think it’s really important to protect this body of water not only for drinking water but also for recreation and all the other uses,” Byrne added. “There’s a lot of employment that’s based around Lake Ontario and for me, it’s always held a special place in my heart because I love being on the water.”

Byrne’s progress can be monitored on the interactive website www.agreenerfuture.ca/lyl-2020 were there are trivia sections, blogs and information on environmental initiatives, links to sponsoring partners and an option of support the Love your Lake SUP challenge.

According to Byrne, all generated funds go towards cleaning up Lake Ontario as well as developing initiatives to keep waste from entering the lake in the first place.

While there are a number of culprits that can jeopardize the health and cleanliness of Lake Ontario, Byrne said micro plastics continue to be cause of great concern.

“There’s a lot of micro plastics that are entering the lake and that’s so hard to clean up once they are in there,” she said.

Micro plastics are defined as particles of plastic that are less than five mm in size and can come from a number of sources. One of the most lethal are “nurdles” which are plastic pellets that are used in industrial applications are wreaking havoc on marine environments all over the world. Nurdles can resemble roe to preying fish and can cause toxic breakdowns in aquatic lifeforms.

“Microfibres from clothing as well as plastics that are already in the lake that are degrading and breaking down into smaller bits… The smaller it gets, the harder it is to get out of the lake,” Byrne added.

In terms of her journey so far, the paddler has seen “a lot” of wildlife including turtles, loons and osprey.

She mentioned she got an eyeful of the  constantly active Lake Ontario shoreline food chain as a presumed bass inhaled a straggling gosling right before her very eyes.

“It’s been an incredible journey so far. There’s such a calming peacefulness that comes with paddle boarding. I’m really enjoying looking at the shoreline, it’s wonderful to be out here,” Byrne said.