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Eco Summit highlights need for sustainable partnerships in eastern GTA

Brad Duguid, MPP for Scarborough Centre and Ontario Minister of Training Colleges and Universities spoke with participants at the 2014 Eco Summit held at UTSC. (Photo by Ken Jones)

With a seemingly endless stream of environmental challenges facing the planet it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start.

It’s the reason UTSC organized the first Eastern GTA Eco Summit three years ago as a forum for community leaders, academics and concerned citizens committed to ensuring a healthy planet for generations to come by focusing on local environmental issues first.

“We have so many challenges facing us that we wanted to engage businesses, different levels of government, community organizations and residents to develop partnerships for a more sustainable future in the region,” says Tim Lang, summit organizer and manager of the UTSC Sustainability Office.

The complex environmental issues covered during the two-day summit alone highlight the need for greater local partnerships, says Lang. A series of interactive breakout sessions covering a range of environmental issues were moderated by staff from Parks Canada, Toronto Zoo, TRCA, the business community and UTSC faculty.

A breakout session on water highlighted the need for greater awareness and collaboration. Rapid urbanization in the eastern GTA continues to have a profound negative effect on the local watershed, says UTSC professor Nick Eyles. Using Frenchman’s Bay in Pickering as an example, he showed photos of how the once thriving wetland has shrunk considerably since 1939. The creeks that traditionally fed the bay have been diverted or completely cut off by major roads such as Highway 401, while road salt and chemicals continue to pollute the water. Lawn fertilizers and warm surface water draining into the bay are also contribute to large algae blooms during the summer.

“Current and up-to-date monitoring data can help address issues in the bay as they develop rather than just being reactive all the time,” says Eyles, “but this can’t just be data that sits on a shelf. We need to inform the public and put pressure on government in order to truly tackle these issues.”

Many important environmental issues were also explored in a series of research presentations by U of T graduate students ranging from declining bee populations and invasive species to sustainable agriculture and waste management.

Carol Sheedy, vice president of operations for Parks Canada’s eastern division, also emphasized collaboration in building the Rouge National Park.

“We also want to carry on the cooperative approach that made the conservation of this park possible in the first place,” says Sheedy, who delivered the summit’s keynote address. In addition to ecological restoration, collaborative projects in the Rouge Park will include wildlife protection and conservation, water quality monitoring and more recreational opportunities.

Sheedy also announced the renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that Parks Canada and UTSC first signed in 2011. The partnership established UTSC as the primary research and education partner in the transformation of the Rouge Valley into Canada’s first national urban park.

© University of Toronto Scarborough