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Environmental Topics for Boaters

Harbourfront Centre Marinas

Clean Marine

Boating Ontario, along with member marinas, have been enrolling in the Clean Marine Program to ensure that their marinas are following an environmentally sound series of practices and protecting our waterways for all to enjoy. All Clean Marine Program Eco-rated Marinas proudly fly the Boating Ontario environmental flag. See the bulletin board in your marina to view a copy of the awarded certificate or ask a staff member for details.

Just as Boating Ontario member marinas have committed themselves to follow environmental practices, you can too! Look for products with Environment Canada’s Environmental Choice logo to use around your boat. Properly separate and discard recyclable materials and please DO NOT place hazardous wastes such as old batteries and motor oil in waste receptacles.

Harbourfront Centre liaises with the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) on a variety of topics including flood water level monitoring, waterfront and river safety and helps with the distribution of TRCA’s Green Boater Guide. Visit your Marina Office to pick up a free copy of this valuable guide! For further information on any of the above topics including lake level awareness please visit

It’s our environment... let’s protect it!

Spill Response

Within our marine environment efforts must be made by all to eliminate all spills. A spill starts with even a trace amount of undesirable material including petroleum/ hydrocarbon based products, detergents, concentrated liquids/ cleaners, raw sewage, trash/debris or other environmentally damaging material. Even milk in concentration kills fish! Do not under any circumstance leave bottles of oil, gas cans or other items containing such materials on the docks!

At Harbourfront Centre we maintain dialogue with The City of Toronto, Ports Toronto, The Provincial Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC), Environment Canada and Transport Canada Marine Safety, Lake Ontario WaterKeeper and Swim Drink Fish regarding spills. Such agencies work together in event of a spill to mitigate its clean up, investigate the cause and collect money to cover the clean up costs from the accused. In some cases criminal charges may also be laid.

Staff spill training.

Many of our staff have taken spill response training from companies like Ground Force Environmental Inc. involving both classroom sessions and on-water practical exercises (see photo).

We have yellow spill response equipment boxes at both Marina Four and Marina Quay West. These contain spill mitigation equipment, including special hydrocarbon absorbing booms, pads and personal safety equipment.

The most frequent spill tends to be fuel or oil which creates a very bad looking incident causing a rainbow coloured sheen on the water surface. Just a few drops of fuel or oil can create what appears to be large spill incident. The source of these sheens may vary. They can come from a boat within the marina, a vessel docked on the waterfront, a shore side accident, washed down a storm sewer outlet after a rain (such is the case at the north end of Marina Four) or they can drift in from other areas within the harbour. In many cases we may not be able to do much except aerate the water as instructed to dissipate and evaporate the fuel or oil.

If you happen to spill or see fuel or oil in the water DO NOT add dish soap to try to break up the sheen. Doing this is an illusion and actually causes more harm to the environment than leaving the sheen. It may look better from the surface but causes more harm below surface as soap molecules sink below surface where aquatic species may consume them. In addition, soap is a pollutant.

If you cause a spill, you are legally obligated to report it and may be financially responsible for its clean up. If you don’t report it and it is traced back to you through investigation you could be in serious trouble, face stiff fines and be held legally responsible.

Make every effort to prevent harmful material from entering the lake! Keep a bilge sock in your boat and follow concepts outlined in the Boating Ontario Clean Boater Handbook.

If you witness a spill – including the dumping of raw sewage within our marinas – please call the Ministry of Environment Spills Action Centre at 1-800-268-6060, Harbourfront Centre Security at 416-973-4885 and the appropriate marina office immediately.

If you witness a spill or the dumping of sewage or hazardous waste please contact the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Pollution Hotline number at 1-866-663-8477.

Debris and Aquatic Plant Growth in Marinas

In partnership with the Ports Toronto, we attempt to pick up as much surface debris within our marinas and several waterfront slips such as York, Peter and Portland as possible. Surface debris such as cups, wrappers, "weed", waste, feathers and small bits of driftwood may accumulate depending on rain quantities which flush out river basins, weather and wind direction. Smaller sized debris located in corners or hard to get at locations is picked up manually by hand by our Marine Crew aboard our small work boat. Larger debris such as logs, branches or other navigational hazards found within the harbour or waterfront slips are picked by the Ports Toronto using the William Rest and a barge. Visit The Ports Toronto Harbour Hot Line for details.

As of March 2012 our access to orange City of Toronto owned slip cleaning machines was terminated. Since all debris must be removed using small tools such as pitch forks and nets. You can imagine this is difficult, wet, hot hard work and is vastly slower than using the machines. Once collected debris is transferred by hand to a small barge located at the east end of the harbour in preparation for disposal.

Pile of removed plant material and debris.

Aquatic plants are an important element of the marine environment. They provide habitat for numerous aquatic species and help retain water quality for starters. Excessive plant growth at the surface in marinas is a challenge in many boating regions especially in July and August as water warmth expedites growth. Eventually plants reach the surface and become the nuisance we all see. Zebra Mussels complicate things further by filtering particulates which make the water clearer allowing a greater amount of sunlight penetration. This also promotes plant growth. In addition, other locations around the Inner Harbour and Lake Ontario cut plants which can form large patches that can drift into a marina. Marina Quay West is not the only location with a "weed" problem. In fact, many other locations have it much worse.

Removing surface plant growth – or "weeds" as many call them – is a cumbersome, time consuming, expensive, wet and heavy job. It potentially costs tens of thousands of dollars annually to remove weed from Marina Quay West. We make efforts to remove some growth by pushing, towing and directing weed into channels so crews can pick some of it it up. You can imagine wet weed is heavy, so lifting it by hand is hot, slimy, wet and dirty work. Those of you that attempted to partially clear your own slip know this. Patches may be contaminated with hazardous waste such as needles, dead animals and other unfriendly smelly items. Both our Marine Crew (Marine Services Dept.) and Marina Staff (Marine Operations Dept.) work hard to provide some relief but must work safely keeping the above in mind. Despite, it tends to be a loosing battle since we are unable to remove massive quantities of heavy growth quickly. Plants continue to seed and grow rapidly throughout a hot summer.

In summer 2011 our team removed approximately 30,000 pounds of debris from Marina Quay West in August alone! Are you surprised? Many people are. When you arrive at the marina after work or on the weekend it may not look any different. We likely have removed a large amount of weed. When surface growth is removed it may be displaced by growth rising to the top, drifting into a cleared area or simply spread out. It may not look like anything has been done.

Weed reaches the surface in 2011.

In summer 2012 plant growth peaked much earlier. We speculate this was due to record setting temperatures starting in March. The assumption is that plant life cycles started and therefore ended much earlier. Plants likely dropped to the bottom at the end of their lifecycle in late July or perhaps they did not flourish in the abnormally warm water. As a result clean up was much easier. However, once plants drop to bottom they can reseed causing greater issue in following years.

In summer 2013 and 2014 the weed problem seemed to peak in late July but was short lived. This was likely due to the cooler wet summer, less sunlight and highly as a result of somewhat higher water levels. Come August there were only a few small pockets of concentrated weed growth. Much of the weed did not reach the surface.

Following a record cold and snowy winter in 2014, a standard end of July and August peak was likely. With snow and ice accumulations water levels were higher than in 2013. However, the plant growth amount and accumulation was less based on temperatures and the number of sunny days we had May to July. As suspected the ice storm in December 2013 caused much damage to trees within the Don River Valley and was likely cause for large amounts of tree and shrub debris found in the Harbour in spring 2014. This also likely caused a TPA boom breakage in late June which initiated a substantial clean up effort prior to the July 1st long weekend.

In the summer of 2015 we saw limited weed growth and surface patches. Some manual cleaning of weeds was required in certain slips and some patches within channels but nothing like years past. This decrease may have been a result of cooler temperatures and perhaps our reluctance to cut weed preventing reseeding over the past few summers.

With great weather comes weed. A stellar 2016 summer again caused areas of growth due to warm water and high hours of sunlight. This growth was enough to cause issues for some smaller boats. We attempted to remove as much weed as possible with use of a rented machine and recommend to those affected to move to alternate slips that did not contain growth.

We hope this helps you see things differently and that dealing with this nuisance growth is a surmountable task. Harbourfront Centre at least had some resources to improve this challenging situation. We wish for hot summers but this is an unfortunate downside.

We will have to keep working on innovative ways to maintain the aquatic ecosystem but improve the surface situation for your boating pleasure. If you face arrival and departure challenges due to the amount of plant growth in your slip and around your hull please inform the marina office staff. Staff may be able to manually clear weed from your slip or assign you a temporary alternate slip so that we can attempt to clean your slip. You are reminded and responsible for making sure that all motor or cooling system intakes on your boat are kept weed and debris free!

Thank you for your understanding and cooperation. We hope that you continue to enjoy the waterfront despite this mostly natural inconvenience.

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