Every shoreline is a “living edge” or “ribbon of life” where land, water, and air meet. Healthy natural shorelines along lakes, creeks, rivers, ponds, canals, estuaries, and oceans contribute significantly to the overall health of our entire water system.
Silver Donald Cameron said, “The beach is magic, an infinitely complex and beautiful ballet of the shore and the land, a pas de deux between change and resistance. Caught up in the dance are the animals and plants that live there. The beach is not just a strip of sand: it is a community, a wild and living thing.”
The environmental benefits of shorelines, or riparian zones, are diverse. Native vegetation such as cattails, lily pads, and trembling aspens provide birthplaces, food, and shelter for 90 percent of all aquatic and terrestrial lake and river life. Plants pump oxygen into the water for everything from microbes to minnows. Water quality is ensured by the ability of these same plants to filter sediments and pollutants. Flooding is prevented by the shore’s absorption characteristics, with groundwater sources being recharged by excess water.
There are both tangible and intangible social benefits associated with healthy shorelines. They provide abundant recreational opportunities as well as privacy and barriers to noise. They also offer solace for rest and reflection.
Economic benefits can be enjoyed by waterfront residents, whose property values are safeguarded, and by communities at large, whose water supplies and commercial industries (e.g. fishing and tourism) are protected.
The importance of protecting these ecosystems can’t be overstated. As noted in a Canadian Geographic handout, “What a tangled web is woven along shorelines, some of the richest, most productive ecological turf on Earth. That meeting of air, water, and land fosters a diversity of life and thus an intricate food web. Each species is a thread in the web, and each thread relies on all others for survival and on humans to maintain a clean, natural environment. As we alter the landscape, threads begin to snap and the repercussions resonate through the entire web.”
So how can we protect these important ecosystems? The best method is to leave shorelines in a natural state, or restore previously altered areas. Chemical use around shorelines should be reduced or totally restricted. An adequate buffer should be left between riparian zones and buildings. Detergent, fertilizer, and pesticide use should be restricted to prevent nutrient and contaminant runoff into water bodies. Additionally, boaters can prevent erosion by slowing down close to shore.
Shorelines are the interface between water and land. They are the fragile and beautiful ties that bind these elements together. A cradle of creation, sustainer of species, and place of peace. Ribbons of life are certainly worthy of protection… aren’t they?
Rick de Vries is the Director of Development for the Fresh Outlook Foundation. He has a background in research and environmental sciences, and has many years of experience writing and editing for environmentally related media.