Adventures on the Bruce Peninsula

A clear view of the Georgian Bay from the Bruce Trail, in Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula National Park (Photo by Kara Steeland)

By Kara Steeland
ASC Microplastics Adventurer

The steel-hulled boat rocked gently as we sat on the back, readying to jump into the frigid water of the Georgian Bay.

On the way to a weekend backpacking trip, we’d detoured to explore the historic W.L. Wetmore shipwreck by snorkel. The steamship sank in November 1901, after colliding with one of the many limestone reefs and shoals that lurk below the water’s surface in northern Lake Huron.

Before taking the plunge, we collected our first water sample for the ASC Microplastics Project. I looked into the water, wondering if microplastics drifted there above the glacially scoured bedrock and century-old ship.


Kara explores the remains of the W.L. Wetmore in Fathom Five National Marine Park. (Photo by Justin Hesselbart)

On that sunny summer day, the sunken remains of the old wooden steamship recalled the fury and wildness of these vast waters. 

With roughly 25 shipwrecks in the Fathom Five National Marine Park, the area served as a reminder that humans have been impacting the planet since long before microplastics appeared in our soaps and other products. Unfortunately, the mistakes we make now have a resounding, ecosystem-wide impact, compared to the heap of sunken wooden planks and old boiler on the bottom of this remote bay. 

After shaking off the bone-chilling cold from the 55°F water, we headed to Bruce Peninsula National Park to backpack on the Bruce Trail, a 560-mile trail running along the Niagara Escarpment high on the cliffs of the Georgian Bay. 

Gathering an ASC sample from the bay (Photo by Justin Hesselbart)


Looking into the clear waters of the Georgian Bay (Photo by Kara Steeland)

As we hiked along the jagged shoreline on day one, the expanse of deep blue water stretched out beside us, fading into a mosaic of turquoise, cerulean and aqua. After a night in the mosquito-laden white cedar and fir forest, we woke to the sun reflecting off calm water and a lake-scented breeze blowing through the tent screens. 

I waded from the sun-warmed rock into the cold water to collect a sample and took a picture to try to capture the magic of the crystal clear water. It was hard to imagine that microplastics might be drifting around in this beautiful, seemingly pristine ecosystem.

Justin Hesselbart collects a sample in a stream near the outlet of an inland lake on the Bruce Peninsula.

Justin Hesselbart collects a sample in a stream near the outlet of an inland lake on the Bruce Peninsula.

This was my first time volunteering with ASC, and I can now say that collecting data adds an element to outdoor experiences that are already full of meaning and wonder. 

As Edward Abbey wrote, “It is not enough to understand the natural world. The point is to defend and preserve it.” 

ASC provides an incredible opportunity to collect data that moves us toward the defense and preservation of the places we explore and love, and I am excited to continue to gather more samples on adventures both big and small. 

Learn more about the Microplastics Project and other ASC projects on our website
the Field Notes blog, and our FacebookTwitterInstagram and Google+ pages.