Four billion years ago mountain ranges heaved up from the earths crust and this was what covered the Georgian Bay region ... although the continents were in different positions at that time. Later they were covered by warm seas. Over 10,000 years ago glaciers two kilometers thick scoured the area during the ice age. About 9000 BC early hunters and gatherers were in the area. Native tribes developed in the area and in the early 1600's European explorers found their way to the area.
Georgian Bay is naturally low in nitrates, phosphates & plant nutrients. PH ranges between 6.5 and 8.5. Aquatic ecosystems can function well above 6.5. Limestone bedrock in the southern and western basins provides more alkaline (higher PH) water while the eastern side of the Bay with its granite shores provides more acidity (lower PH). Water clarity is typically between 3 - 8 meters and as good as 13 meters in some areas. Of course in areas that don't flush well or are close to marshy areas the visibility can be less than 2 meters.
Bacteria levels are benchmarked acceptable at 100 ppm total coli form (TC) and 10 ppm e coli (EC). Levels of TC & EC can vary greatly by location, but on average from many consolidated field stations TC is in the 43 ppm range and EC 2 ppm range. August and September levels can exceed the acceptable benchmark level in some areas due to higher temperatures and less stirring and perhaps heavier loading in the areas of urban development. In any event the water is clean, and there are few areas where that average ever exceeds 100 TC and virtually no areas that average exceeds 10 EC. Water quality has actually improved since 2003 which seems to have been a peak year.
Excess rain and lack of wind are contributing natural factors to TC & EC growth, but who is to argue with Mother Nature's cycles.
Never the less even with our relatively clean water, humans make a big impact on Georgian Bay and there are many human factors that contribute to water quality including but not limited to the following:
None of these factors alone pose a major risk, and in fact some, including boating, make a very small negative contribution but collectively they bear monitoring and constant improvement as the population grows around the area. So the bottom line is we all have to do our part.
- there are five major waste water plans that discharge treated waste into the Bay (with others proposed) and there are many more informal discharges' that happen around the lake including storm sewer culverts
- water levels fluctuate dramatically and low water years have less mass to contain contaminates that are introduced to the Bay
- phosphorus discharge from farm operations and poorly maintained septic systems introduce the nutrients necessary for bacterial growth
- reduction of shore vegetation reduces the natural filtering process and allows higher levels of contaminant run off
- bilge discharge from lakers although not legal can add to the situation
- aquaculture farming operations arguably add waste and unwanted nutrients
- recreational activities in boats no doubt have some affect
In addition there are times where Blue/Green algae blooms can occur. Most of this phenomenon is natural and related to sunlight and the changes in weather - but producing the nutrients that feed the semi toxic algae (that depletes lake oxygen) can also be a human factor of phosphorus discharge and low water levels (natural or human contributed).
Boaters can do their part to help preserve pristine Georgian Bay by:
- supporting eco rated marinas
- using bio degradable natural boat products
- using biocide free anti fouling
- never discharging waste or contaminated bilge water
It is said that in recent years there has been a 5% increase in outflow of water via the St Clair River with the water being redirected to the needs of man-made development and industry. Everything is connected and many factors are not in the control of the inhabitants that live in the area. In fact there is limited control Provincially and even Federally. Treaties between countries can help but the fact is, people need water and water is becoming a commodity. There is no easy solution - as mankind continues to develop hopefully these kinds of challenges can be overcome with more efficient processes and awareness. There is no one group to blame and hard core environmentalists should be careful to study their own habits before pointing fingers as we all consume, travel, heat our homes, eat, crap... and there is no perfect solution or magic bullet. Indirectly we are all contributors to an imperfect world.
Recently water levels in Georgian Bay have recovered and of course the main factor contributing to water level fluctuations is the natural process of snow load, rain and sunlight that are all part of our weather patterns that have changed in cycles' since the beginning of time and will continue to do so. That doesn't mean though, that we can afford to mistreat our water or not use it efficiently.
Georgian Bay is very diversified in its fish species due to the overall good water quality of the Bay and the varied living conditions that support the particular species. Walleye, Sauger, Large Mouth Bass, Small Mouth Bass, Northern Pike, Yellow Perch, Crappie, Brook Trout, Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Murky, Splake, Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon, Pink Salmon, Atlantic Salmon, Whitefish, Sturgeon and Channel Catfish are all residents of Georgian Bay and the North Channel.
There are some unwanted marine residents as well - invasive species include Fresh Water Jellyfish, Quagga & Zebra Mussels, Round Gobbi, Sea Lamprey, Spiny Water Flea. While all these pose a threat thankfully they haven't spun out of control in the Bay as they have in some other jurisdictions. Every boat that comes in or out of the water should be pressure washed to minimize spread and never release an invasive species if you happen to catch one. Bait fish should be purchased from a reliable source that buys bait fish from licensed harvesters.
There is a third category in the Aquaculture industry on Georgian Bay and in the North Channel. There are two commercial caged aquaculture operations on Georgian Bay and nine in the North Channel. Most are producing Rainbow Trout and for the most part they are well managed and regulated. Arguably they do contribute to the nutrient loading and over time they may genetically water down the natural species. However they prevent fish stock depletion and they are conscientious in their business endeavors and fish management practices.
Regarding the fishing guidelines Georgian Bay is Zone 14 and Manitoulin is Zone 10. Pick up a copy of the regulations with your fishing license and follow them.