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Where Have All the Shorelines Gone?

By Bud Andress

Not that long ago, some 12,500 years, the great North American continental glacial period drew to an end.  What was first revealed in the 1000 Islands region must have resembled present-day northern new environments of mud and smooth rock, compared to that which followed in time--an archipelago of richly vegetated shores and sparkling blue-green waterways.

Photo: Paul Malo
Variegated shoreline tapestry

As archaeological examination would show, the aboriginal people used or passed through the islands dating back 9000 years.  Their footprint in the region wasn’t always all that small relatively speaking to their time.  However, equipped with the technology of the day and with a special appreciation for their surrounding natural environment, the aboriginals only scratched the surface of the area with the footprint of their villages and small fishing camps.  Time and a humus overlay has all but concealed that footprint.  It wasn't until the eighteenth century that the Europeans required area shores to be fixed and straightened and hardened for their landings.

The greater Thousand Islands region is a melting pot of flora and fauna diversity.  It is a place of plants and animals quite simply because of its latitude--an  intersecting point of northern affinity and southern affinity species.  Abundant water resources and habitat niches further make for a diverse ecosystem.  Island and mainland shorelines and adjacent littoral zones are key components in the attachment of aqua life to terrestrial life in the Thousand Islands.  It is part of what makes life in the Thousand Islands so special.  Life for we humans living or visiting here today would not be as enjoyable if this fragile attachment were to become a missing link.  I sometimes fear we only see the gradual change through our peripheral vision, if at all.

Paul Malo photograph
Photo: Paul Malo
Seawall, Fairyland Island.

History eventually sorted the colonies of the Europeans, and new nations south and north of the Thousand Islands.  By the latter quarter of the nineteenth Century the Thousand Islands had been discovered as a destination to fish, socialize and refresh in its cool water, having been so long disregarded by those who passed by and only saw rocky knobs and poor farmland potential.  With access by rail to the new playground, grand hotels and island retreats sprang up for wealthy vacationers.  Services which centred around the river environment would be provided by those who had planted roots in the rocky soil and had built their mills and small communities.

With the boom of constructing grand mansions, many which still stand today on their own as picturesque postcard storytellers, came the need to “improve” the shorelines.  This often meant construction of stone seawalls and the filling-in of embayments and marshlands.  The great life line, the littoral zone was beginning to be challenged.  Looking critically at these hardened shoreline properties today one can see they are part of the story of the golden age--our history lesson on what was preferred, practiced, and expected then.  I don’t find them at all disturbing to view today in a historical context.  This desire or need to master the waterfront through manipulation of the natural shoreline continued well into the 1970s.  However, by the 1980s a new consciousness about our consumption of the landscape, in fact of everything, was settling in.Children on the shore

Unfortunately, even today the onslaught of  our beautiful natural Thousand Islands shorelines and wetlands continues.  Waves no longer dissipate their musical sound on natural slope and fissures; plants and animals struggle to cross an unnatural barrier; marshland plant communities that are important for water quality and diversity of life disappear . For me, there is no excuse in the twenty-first century to be changing a glaciated granite rock shoreline that outlasted a 12,500 year test of time, into a stone and mortar wall.  I can accept the intent of the former builders, but not of the present. It appears to be all about posturing and trophy-ism; rarely about site idiosyncrasy need.  I fear as much as a kilometer of shoreline is lost annually in the Thousand Islands to corrugated steel, stone and mortar seawalls, solid concrete walls, and in filling.  Fortunately there are a few attempting to return small areas of altered shorelines into more environmentally friendly zones and these should be applauded.

Besides the grand homes, the quaint cottages, the many and varied conveniences of river travel, it is the natural beauty of the Thousand Islands, not what we can change it into, that is its true beauty--even if we only realize it through our peripheral vision.

Shoreline rocks
Photo: Paul Malo
Scow Island Shore.

Portfolio of Shorelines by Bud Andress

Natural seawall Rocky shore rough shoreline

An important wetland

Posted in: Nature
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Ottoleo Kuter-Arnebeck
Comment by: Ottoleo Kuter-Arnebeck ( )
Left at: 7:34 PM Sunday, November 22, 2009
Mr. Andress,

Thank you for this article. Seawalls are a disgrace and a symbol of the moronic turn our 'civilized' culture has taken. Just a few years ago, my favorite island that I grew up with in front, Goose Island, was blown up for some nouveau riche fool can have a sea-wall on the leeward side, no less!!! I was heartbroken. What a senseless encroachment on the oldest rock on the planet. It sickens me, really. I think we should start up a protest against this a la Save The River!, but it should be separate, because Save The River! has become Save The River, period. Soon it will be lowercase too; save the river. Then save the river . . . etc. Lord, it makes me mad. We should start Wallup The River!!!!! Walmart The River, is what these schmucks are doing. Any way, is there any other places you can publish this? The Sun??? The NYTIMES?

Bud Andress
Comment by: Bud Andress ( )
Left at: 11:09 PM Sunday, December 6, 2009
I wish to reply to Ottoleo's comment posted on my article "Where Have All The Shorelines Gone?". While I find the language and sense of the comment very strong in the manner in which it is worded, I'm not in disagreement that it is a shame that the natural beauty of this area is being altered into something quite different, just because someone would like to or can afford to do it. However, we can all hang our head in a towel and cry and nothing will change. So, what is the weak link? Well, it starts with the individual property owner charged with the need to master the landscape. But what else? Is it the state, provincial, or federal governments of New York/the USA or Ontario/Canada that is the weakest link in this? Actually, I think it is at the municipal level. Hydraulic hammering and carting away the shoreline, or straightening and hardening the shoreline seems to be not much of an issue at the local level. If not done when fish habitat or fish life cycles could be affected, it is otherwise open season on shorescapes. Expensive alterations appear to yield higher tax assessments. But, the catch here is - the way that waterfront was first observed it is the way it demonstrated the true beauty of the 1000 Islands. For some strange reason, that may not be as valuable. Further, people here in the 1000 Islands are extremely sensitive about restrictions on what they can or cannot do with their property, and while this ironically may include a group of the most strict self-enforcing good land stewards, this state of being leaves open all options for the "developers extreme". People have to demand a change to the way things are going, or things are not going to change (well, the shorelines excepted).

With respect to the specific reference to Save The River I would simply say that I have discovered over the past several years just how hard Save The River's Executive Director, staff, and Board of Directors give of their time and personal finances to fighting the many serious stressors threatening our river ecosystem. My drawing attention to the alterations of shorelines by writing this article, with much consultation with the late Paul Malo, was partly a result of how my thinking on this issue has been shaped having worked a 37 year career in conservation in the 1000 Islands and as a result of my own commitment to Save The River and the challenges it faces.

Thankyou for your expression of concern and taking time to comment.

Bud Andress