Don't worry about 'unsightly,' smelly green stuff on Cherry Beach, clean water advocate says

·3 min read
The director of water programs at Swim Drink Fish Canada says the mixture of 'submerged aquatic vegetation and a form of algae' is harmless to humans and animals. (Paul Smith/CBC - image credit)
The director of water programs at Swim Drink Fish Canada says the mixture of 'submerged aquatic vegetation and a form of algae' is harmless to humans and animals. (Paul Smith/CBC - image credit)

Large amounts of "unsightly" and smelly vegetation has been washing up on Toronto's Cherry Beach shoreline recently, but the director of water programs at Swim Drink Fish Canada says there's no need for alarm.

Gregary Ford says the mixture of "submerged aquatic vegetation and a form of algae" is harmless to humans and animals.

"We get photos like this all the time; people are often concerned when they see something green washing up on their shorelines," Ford told CBC Toronto.

"[It's] a mixture of … things like coontail, but also a form of filamentous algae that we think is probably cladophora algae."

Unlike the blue-green algae that is a cause for major concern in areas such as the western basin of Lake Erie or in the Hamilton Harbour area — because it produces a toxin that is a problem for humans and animals — Ford said there's less concern with cladophora algae.

"Cladophora … is just known as a nuisance. It takes a variety of different forms, but typically it washes on shore when it gets to excessive levels due to ... excess nutrients in our waterways," Ford said.

Paul Smith/CBC
Paul Smith/CBC

He said "it's unsightly" with a not-so-great odour and just "doesn't look great."

"Some municipalities even close their beaches due to the presence of it, but generally it's just a nuisance," Ford said.

'It smells very bad'

Abbas Khoshmehri was out for a walk on the beach with his dog on Thursday but said he kept clear of the water.

"It's very bad. I can't take my dog inside the water, that's why I'm just walking here," he said.

"The water looks green, I don't know why," he said, adding he doesn't want his dog going in the water.

"It smells very bad," he said.

Paul Smith/CBC
Paul Smith/CBC

Another beachgoer, Carmen Mak, said the green vegetation washes up every summer.

"Honestly, we avoid it just for the sake of being careful with the dogs," she said.

"We don't know whether it's dangerous or not."

Meanwhile, Ford said some studies suggest E. coli bacteria can thrive in areas where there's an excessive amount of cladophora washed up on the shoreline as it rots and creates an oxygen-poor environment in the area.

Additionally, he said other research suggests when there are extreme wash-up events, they can breed bacteria that can result in botulism outbreaks.

"This happened a few years ago and it happens ever so often in the Great Lakes," Ford said.

"It's particularly problematic when the algae becomes overabundant, but it's particularly prominent in Lake Erie, Lake Huron and across Lake Ontario, and it's due to nutrient loading that comes in with things like agricultural inputs, fertilizer, manure that make their way into our lakes.

"But importantly, it's also related to sewage pollution. Sewage pollution carries a lot of nutrients, and that can result in a lot of it being grown in the near-shore environments," he added.

According to Ford, understanding where the vegetation is coming from, how much is growing, where it's going, and the impact that it's having on people is an evolving field of science.

He said the more scientists can understand where it's occurring, the more information they can get to Environment and Climate Change Canada.