Cootes Paradise

History of Cootes

Hamilton Harbour is joined to Cootes Paradise by a narrow channel formerly excavated for the Desjardin's Canal. The original inhabitants, known as Princess Point people, can be traced back to between AD 500 and 1000. Centuries later, in the early 1700s, Europeans arrived and settled here. Officially established in 1927, the area was named after a British naval officer, Captain Thomas Coote, who spent many days hunting the abundant waterfowl in the 1780’s. It is the last remaining marsh in western Lake Ontario and crucial habitat for wildlife, particularly for fish spawning.
Located at the west end of the Harbour, Cootes is a significant migratory bird flyover zone and is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. With more than 320 hectares of marshland, 16 creeks and 25 km of shoreline, Cootes Paradise is RBGs largest and most diverse sanctuary.
Before the 20th century, the nutrient-rich, shallow waters of Cootes Paradise thrived as a coastal freshwater marsh habitat. A large majority of Cootes Paradise was covered with emergent aquatic plants, such as wild rice, and submergent plants like wild celery. This vegetation provided sufficient food, shelter and migration stop-overs for a variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. The abundant wetland also provided ideal spawning, nursery and adult habitat. Due to its ecological richness efforts to protect and conserve Cootes began, first as a fish sanctuary in the 1870’s, and then as a wildlife preserve in 1927, and finally through the formation of the Royal Botanical Gardens in the 1930’s.
The plentiful flora and fauna of Great Lakes coastal freshwater marshes did not go unnoticed by settlers in the 1800s. Cootes Paradise and its surrounding natural habitats offered abundant fishing and hunting opportunities, fertile farmland and convenient access to water. However, human settlement of Hamilton Harbour and its surrounding natural lands caused stress on Cootes Paradise. Throughout Cootes Paradise’s watersheds, agricultural practices and residential, commercial and industrial development contaminated connecting creeks with sewage effluent, eroded soil and sediment, chemical runoff, and disrupted flow patterns.

Environmental Decline

As human pressures increased, the decline in the health and biodiversity of Cootes Paradise became unmistakable. By the 1930s Cootes Paradise experienced a 15% permanent reduction in marsh vegetation, and by 1985 the level of plant loss reached 85% of its original coverage. This permanent loss of aquatic flora led to poor quality and directly impacted fish and wildlife inhabitants and economies of Lake Ontario. Since its dramatic decline began the RBG has been focused on restoring Cootes Paradise.

Wetland Restoration

Project Paradise was launched in 1993 as a component of the Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan to address all of these factors, with the long-term goal of having habitats naturally regenerate and become self-sustaining. The initiative includes a wide variety of conservation projects:
Carp Barriers
Barriers, such as the Cootes Paradise Fishway protest fish habitat in the marsh areas through control and removal of non-native common carp. These efforts contribute to the delisting of Hamilton Harbour as an Area of Concern by meeting the RAP target of <20 kg/ha of carp. Successful operation of the Fishway involves passing all native species into and out of Cootes Paradise Marsh according to thei migration schedules, and excluding all large carp and goldfish from the marsh. Paired with these conservation efforts, the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) also engages and educates the community through special tours and public demonstrations at the Fishway.
Water Quality
To reach the delisting targets set out by the Hamilton Harbour RAP, water quality tests are run bi-weekly from May to September at established sites. To ensure suitable breeding success, appropriate nitrate and nitrite levels must meet Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment standards.
Wetland Plants
By transplanting populations of white water lilies, yellow pond lilies, and southern wild rice, RBG aims to accelerate the wetland plant community regeneration. The goal is to attain the Hamilton Harbour RAP delisting criterion for aquatic plant coverage, which is 230 hectares in Cootes Paradise and 40 hectares in Hendrie Valley Sanctuary. To achieve this, RBG offers volunteer planting opportunities to help educate and engage the community.
Related to assessing and monitoring the carp population, RBG implements fish community monitoring throughout the marsh areas. This involves efforts in electrofishing, spawning surveys, and trap monitoring.
Natural Lands
RBG manages their conservation lands as integrated sanctuaries, both ecologically and culturally by enhancing, restoring and maintaining habitats and linkages in balance with the public need for spiritual renewal and exploration. Turtle nesting habitat has been re-established in one bay by removing woody invasive species that were shading the site and by mixing up hardened soil to make nesting easier for the turtles. In March 2013, a pair of Bald Eagles that had arrived in 2008 successfully hatched young, the first time in more than 50 years that eaglets have hatched on the Canadian shoreline of Lake Ontario.
Read RBG's Project Paradise 2015 Planning document here