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Non-profit seeks scientific solutions for local problems

The lake looks as lovely and appealing as it ever has. But is it really? And will it stay that way? The Friends of the Muskoka Watershed (FOTMW) wants to find out.

The non-profit charity is dedicated to identifying – and finding solutions for – a wide range of environmental factors that threaten the waterways and forests of Muskoka.

“If you want your children to enjoy the waters off your dock as much as you have, we have work to do,” says Dr. Norman Yan, a founding director of FOTMW. “There are new and complex threats to lake health, and it takes knowledge and the will to use it to deal with them.”

FOTMW works with scientists from across Canada and beyond, encouraging and supporting them to conduct experiments in Muskoka, often working alongside volunteer Citizen Scientists. The group first made its mark addressing the shortage of calcium in Muskoka’s lakes and forests – the mineral is essential to everything from sugar maples to crayfish, but calcium levels were severely depleted by years of acid rain.

“We’ve shown that spreading ash from woodstoves in the forest can safely and quickly restore calcium levels in the soil, helping trees grow faster and stronger,” says Dr. Yan. “We suspect those healthier trees could help mitigate future spring flooding, and the runoff from the soil will restore calcium levels in the lakes.”

Calcium, of course, is just one issue facing Muskoka. What’s causing the increase in algal blooms – is it linked to climate change, or perhaps to rising levels of road salt? How serious is microplastic pollution in our waterways? What novel pharmaceuticals are in the lakes?

“It’s not a short list of issues,” says Dr. Yan. “But we believe many of these problems can be solved if we have the knowledge and the will.”

The group also works to make science accessible to lay people. This summer, two outreach events are planned: Maple Trees and Lab Coats on Aug 12 is a chance to discuss forest health with scientists on a guided hike; and on Sep 15, Dr. Yan will be leading a group onto Lake Muskoka to learn how to catch and study microorganisms in the water.

All FOTMW’s work is dependent on grants and donations (for which it can issue tax receipts).

“Our scientific partners have done some amazing work, and there is so much promise in what’s coming next,” says board chair Peter Kelley. “But real science takes real money. We have excellent supporters in Muskoka, but we can use more.”

TEXT A. WAGNER-CHAZALON

www.FOTMW.org

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