In a previous article, Environmental organizations like Environment Hamilton (EH) and the Hamilton Naturalist’s Club (HNC) were introduced. Trees Please Hamilton (TPH), a project of both organizations, has been working on a 3 year project to help improve Hamilton’s air quality by planting more native trees and plants. The Beach Strip community was one of TPH’s tree inventorying areas. This fall, these organizations have been working together on the Beach Strip Shoreline Restoration project which I had the opportunity as a volunteer to help plant.
Originally, the Beach Strip Shoreline Restoration project was supposed to take place in May. However, due to the unusual amount of rainfall that has occurred within Southern Ontario this spring, severe erosion has occurred. Therefore, the project was not able to get underway until this September with planting conditions finally more favourable.
To start, this project took place in Hamilton’s Beach Community, a neighbourhood that TPH, as already mentioned, spent last summer collecting air particulate matter and conducting a tree inventory.
Figure 1: Beach Strip Restoration Planting location on September 16th, 2017
With the help of the City of Hamilton, there were over 5,000 plants of Common Milkweed and Marram Grass to plant. I have asked Diana Gora, a part of EH and the HNC and project lead, why Common Milkweed and Marram Grass were chosen to plant above any other type of plant species. Diana stated that:
“We chose marram grass because it is a known pioneer grass, this means that they are a species that is quick to establish in a disturbed area and jump start an ecological succession. Some other key qualities of marram grass and common milkweed are their ability to spread by seed or under sand by rhizomes. They spread easily and become established just as quickly. As they spread, their root systems are underground locking the sand in place and deterring erosion. Both planted species are very tolerant of the dry sandy conditions that are usually found on a beach. Lastly, common milkweed is essential to the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. They require them to lay their eggs and the caterpillars eat milkweed exclusively, so the more milkweed available the higher chance of bringing the populations of monarch butterflies up.”
Interestingly, common Milkweed has a dual purpose because it not only aids in erosion but it also assists butterfly populations, unfortunately, this plant was more difficult to plant than the Marram grass. This is because the Milkweed was planted 8 inches apart in a row pattern followed by planting a row in front of the gap in the second row. The sand would make it difficult to do so by covering up the space needed. The Marram grass was the more popular choice by volunteer planters as this grass was planted 1 foot apart and visually was more rewarding in the end as its pattern results were more detailed.
Figure 2: Common Milkweed ready to be planted along the Beach Strip
While planting, I was interested in knowing other methods of soil erosion mitigation. Diana explained that: “…other methods of preventing soil erosion are putting in physical barriers such as large stones, or walls. There are many reasons to why these were not the top choice. One is the expense and engineering that is required, it is far more than that of putting in a natural materials, like our native marram grass into the ground. Another reason is their lack of ability to filter debris and water. For example, as wind and waves come through the stone blocks/walls are unable to catch and hold any excess water or materials that are brought in. This can create a higher possibility of flooding inland or extra sedimentation in the lake which could alter the ideal conditions for the wildlife”.
Figure 3: Marram Grass
Diana continued to explain that “natural barriers of native plants are able to catch debris and absorb a large amount of excess water”. Therefore, the most cost effective and simplest form of avoiding shoreline erosion is to simply plant.
Lastly, another question I had was why this particular location along the beach strip, and where will the next location potentially be? I learned from Juby Lee, also a part of EH as well as the TPH project, that the City of Hamilton guided EH to this location and that it worked well with the existing Hydro lines that have a prominent presence along the beach strip. Diana was able to inform me that: “Although there are not official sites selected for future planting the City of Hamilton had a plans of particular sections along the beach that varied in their susceptibility to erosion. Unfortunately, with the increase of severe weather we had in late April and early May there are even more sections along the beach that were eroded. Essentially, all if not most of the beach strip could use native planting because many vegetated areas were eroded and need to be replanted”.
All in all, mostly all of the plants were planted and then watered by the City of Hamilton. I would say this project is off to a good start even though it was delayed by months.
Figure 4: Shoreline project targeted location nearly complete
By Candice Hood
Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.