To some, it may only be a
metaphor, but to Adam it was crimson, shiny and quite real.
He probably sat, suspended by the moment, in his lush glen
of dark greens and bright whites and yellows while he contemplated
this new situation. But the aroma of the forbidden was intoxicating.
He knew there was nothing
quite as red or as plump in the entire garden, decidedly far
too good to pass up. However, that immutable bargain did play
heavily on his mind; eat the apple, lose Paradise. Simple.
How confused he must have
been, having absolutely no frame of reference with which to
make a decision. How was someone who has known only Paradise
supposed to have any knowledge of its absence? So, with no
available means to accurately determine the consequences,
he probably just shrugged his shoulders and smacked his lips.
And, as the story goes, one minor indiscretion, one seemingly
insignificant act and Paradise was forever eradicated with
no contingency for reconciliation and nothing left but a blanket
of remorse and regret.
No big deal to you and me,
though. We've never really known a true Paradise.
And while the precise formula
for a perfect one would probably vary quite largely from person
to person, I'd be willing to bet that the more popular version
would have quiet, dewy mornings where weightless tendrils
of mist dance silently over hundreds of pristine lakes, stunning
sunsets awash in liquid gold and fiery oranges, thundering
waterfalls and sparkling rivers escorted to their final destination
by the gentle slopes of rugged masses of granite. Muskoka.
These are the elements to
which Muskoka's residents and cottagers have hungrily attached
themselves; in much the same way that the roots of the cedar
tree at the water's edge cling to the rocks and soil to sustain
their very existence. And no one wants to let go.
Well, don't look now people,
but for the second time our Garden of Eden may well be slipping
away. History, as they say. This time, however, it is not
a single act of indiscretion, but rather the cumulative effect
of an unprecedented attack on Ontario's cottage country that
is threatening our Paradise. Worse yet, unlike Adam we have
all the information necessary to understand and stop the problem.
We know the whos, whats, whens, wheres and whys of it all.
So why does it go on? Why do we continue to do nothing to
protect ourselves? The answer, of course, is quite simple.
I'm not referring to the
controversial lakeside golf courses being built, or even the
over-populated shores of our lakes enduring the on-going construction.
In my opinion, these things pale by comparison. I am referring
to the worst demon ever to have hit the districts of Muskoka,
Parry Sound and Haliburton; the personal watercraft.
The PWC that was just towed
from your gas station or motel parking lot to the lake, produces
in one day of use the same amount of hydrocarbons and nitrogen
oxides (more commonly known as pollution) as a 1998 passenger
car driven 160,000 kilometers. For those whose brow is not
creased in disbelief, I'll repeat that statement; A PWC produces
in one day of use the same amount of hydrocarbons and nitrogen
oxides (more commonly known as pollution) as a 1998 passenger
car driven 160,000 kilometers. And if you're still not outraged,
then you just might rank among the many who are fed up with
bad news and who have become desensitized to statistics. Like
thousands of others, your impetus to respond may well be experiencing
anesthetization through environmental bad news over-load.
These days, the best you can do is an occasional, "Gee, that's
But you do have a button
somewhere and I think it's important to find itand push
it. So, in an attempt to interpret the very real catastrophe
left in the wake of the PWC rage, let's put the statistics
aside and look at things from a different perspective; you're
sitting on your dock shaking your head and feeling a little
irritated with the noise and pointlessness of the personal
watercraft racing in and out of your bay. Then you look out
at the poor guy in the rowboat and wonder how he tolerates
the close proximity dared by the operator. You shrug your
shoulders and hope it will go away, but it doesn't. In fact,
it's probably joined by another. And whether the first one
disappears or not really doesn't matter because there's always
another one to take over.
Now, imagine this; the guy
in the rowboat nears your dock and you smile at him, happy
that there are still those who can take pleasure in propelling
their own craft. But as the distance between you narrows,
you notice that he has about 15 two-litre jugs lined up in
the bottom of his boat. Then, to your horror, you realize
two things. The first is that all 15 jugs are filled to the
brim with gasoline and oil. The second shocks you into speechlessness
and you begin to doubt your own eyes when he starts to empty
each and every two-litre jug of gasoline and oil directly
into the water. Your water! Your lake! Through your shock
and panic, however, you manage to scream out four words: "What
are you doing?!"
The man in the rowboat looks
a little startled, but remains undeterred. He smiles politely
and says, "Whatthis? Why the sudden concern? You've
been watching others do this for years now."
Now you're over the edge,
completely flabbergasted. You wish he was close enough to
whack with a paddle because no verbal assault, no matter how
venomous, would come close to expressing your internal commotion.
"Excuse me," he says, calmly,
"but I'm not doing anything different than your neighbour
out there." He points over his shoulder to the PWC operator
still racing around.
Turning to the last jug,
he empties it into the water and watches the rest of the blood
drain from your face. Then, he quietly and pointedly says,
"Friend, I can see that you're upset, so I want you to listen
very closely to what I am about to tell you." He pauses for
a moment to make eye contact, then continues. "Every time
one of those things spends a day on the lake, it does exactly
what you just saw me do. It dumps 15 of these old Kool-Aid
jugs worth of gasoline directly into the waterexactly
as if the operator went to the gas station, purchased 30 litres
of gasoline, mixed it with oil, drove to the beach and dumped
it into the lake." You're confused now, but your outrage over
having witnessed the shocking act has not been diminished.
"Now," he says, "why don't you think of this as your wake-up
The noise produced by the
PWC, now just a few yards off the end of your dock, startles
you from your sleep. And for the first time, you're happy
for the noise, as you notice that there never really was a
guy in a rowboat dumping gas into your lake. My, what a dreadful
dream. You shrug your shoulders and wonder what to make for
A silly dream? Perhaps.
But the truth of the matter is that the imaginary guy in the
rowboat was deadly accurate. Now, consider this:
PACs operate on two-stroke
marine engines. Two-stroke marine engines dump 25 to 40 percent
of their fuel, uncombusted, directly into the water. Remember
the outrage you felt over the Exxon Valdez spill? Well, talk
about a drop in the ocean. Every year, two-stroke marine engines
dump 15 times that amount into North American waters (1).
That's the equivalent of more than one Exxon Valdez disaster
every month of the year. Certainly, you recall reading about
the spill, but do you also recall thinking that if you lived
in the area that you'd be willing, even eager, to pitch in
on the massive clean-up job? Well, now's your chance. Our
lakes are teeming with hundreds of miniature Exxon Valdezes
spilling oil and gas everywhere they go! Have you stopped
shrugging your shoulders yet?
Lake Tahoe has instituted
a ban on PACs due to high levels of pollution found in all
sections of the lake. Vermont and Maine have banned these
vehicles on all lakes smaller than 300 acres and 200 acres,
One of the first studies
on two-stroke engines was conducted in 1973 by R.E. Kollman,
S.S. Lestz, and W.E. Meyer. They were members of the Society
of Automotive Engineers, Inc., and Pennsylvania State University.
Their report is entitled "Exhaust Emissions Characteristics
of a Small 2-Stroke Cycle Spark Ignition Engine." The report
reads: "...it was determined that 25 to 40 percent of the
fuel air mixture was short-circuited to the exhaust in the
scavenging process ... [or] 25 to 40 percent of the fuel leaves
the engine unburned."
Guess where that gasoline
Almost any PWC operator
will tell you that a day on the lake can easily require $70
or $80 in gas, or about 100 litres. Between 30 and 40 of those
100 litres of gasoline are deposited directly into the lake.
Regardless of new technologies, two-stroke engines have remained
basically unchanged since the 1940s (3) . But now,
they're bigger and faster and are utilized in more ways than
ever before. And the most prolific growth of two-stroke marine
engines can be found in the personal watercraft industry.
Currently, there are no environment-related
laws regulating the use of personal watercraft in Ontario.
For reasons obvious to all, however, it is quite illegal to
emulate our imaginary friend in the rowboat. It is illegal
to knowingly or unknowingly dump gasoline into any lake or
Or, is it? It seems that
all one has to do to avoid being charged is to alter the container
used. Ironic, isn't it, that it is quite legal and acceptable
to pour gasoline into the lake, provided that the container
you use is larger than a Kool-Aid jug, noisy, and a very real
threat to the local wildlife population?
The blind eye turned toward
these highly mobile environmental disasters is purchased by
the operator with the dollars he pumps into our gas stations
and restaurants. He bribes us by telling us that he helps
keep the "no vacancy" signs flashing in our motels and resorts.
And his pitch is easily accepted. The years of attempting
to stretch the revenues of a short tourist season over a 12-month
period has provided the tourist-area business owner with a
very keen sense of exactly what makes the world go 'round.
But has the scent of that money dulled our collective sense
of priorities in the process?
Ontario's gateway to cottage
country has always been open to the entire world; a wonderful
playground for all to enjoy. Well, now that the red carpet
has been drenched in gasoline, perhaps it's time to roll it
up long enough to re-evaluate our position. The noisy personal
watercraft invasion is silently taking its toll.
With the assistance of the
media, manufacturers and distributors continue to hatch more
and more operators every year, yet only a small handful of
people seem to recognize this self-sabotage. In the United
States, more than 30 National Parks have taken the initiative
to ban PWCs without waiting on government policy. And although
I haven't researched it, I'd be willing to bet that those
particular parks have seen an increase in revenues from canoeists,
hikers and wildlife photographers who are more than happy
to pay for the silence. Meanwhile, north of the border, a
travelling canoeist leaves Muskoka while a flashing "no vacancy"
sign fades in his rear-view mirror.
At the risk of drawing fire
from the minority, it's safe to say that the PWC is a thrill-craft
whose majority of operators enjoy taking pleasure-crafting
to the extreme. Motorized boats most commonly have a horsepower-to-length
ratio of 4:1 (a 16-foot boat having a 65 horsepower motor)
while most PWCs have a horsepower-to-length ratio of 12:1.
This ratio offers extremely fast acceleration, speeds of up
to 70 mph and sharp manoeuvrability as the three key elements
in operator appeal. Unfortunately, however, this particular
design is also the reason that while personal watercraft make
up only nine percent of registered boats, they are involved
in 46 percent of all boating related injuries (4).
Admittedly, the thrill of
pushing the envelope or taking fun to the extreme spans thousands
of cultures over eons of time. The risks taken by today's
PWC operators, however, have inappropriately and unfairly
grown to include the environment. But, in the stark light
of reality, it's difficult to hide behind ignorance. To suggest
that spending $8,000. on a watercraft and not know that it
is powered by a two-stroke engine is an infantile evasion.
In fact, the operator of the PWC racing in and out of your
bay is basically saying that he has the right to his personal
amusement regardless of all else.
When I was a kid cottaging
on Lake of Bays, we used to drink the water directly from
the lake. It was safe to do so. The fact that we can no longer
even eat the fish is just a sign that our lakes will soon
be unfit to swim in. Like the beaches in Toronto, there will
come a day when signs are posted on our own lakes warning
us not to enter the water.
And when that day comes,
how many of us will be found sitting in the last vestige of
our fallen Paradise, the Muskoka chair, desperately seeking
a mantle upon which our anger can be placed? Speaking for
myself and my family, I can't imagine anything worse than
standing amid Paradise lost, choking on the awareness that
I did nothing to prevent it. C'mon folks, wake up and smell
the hydrocarbonsthey're choking the very soul out of
Or, just shrug your shoulders...and
go have yourself an apple.
Editor's note: Anyone wishing
to take action against the PWC invasion should speak with
the president of their lake association and/or the Minister
Of The Environment.
1 "Polluting for Pleasure,"
by Eric Nelson, Sail Magazine, November 26, 1994.
2 National Parks Conservation Association, May 1997.
3 The "Motorized Watercraft Environmental Assessment" prepared
by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (June 1997) asserts,
"two-stroke outboard engines exhaust, unburned, one-quarter
of the fuel they consume."
4 "Injuries resulting from motorized personal watercraft,"
by Baron L. Hamman, Journal of Pediatric Surgery, July 1993.
This is an original story,
first published in The Country Connection Magazine,
Issue 36, Winter/Spring 2001. Copyright Michael Enright.
TO STORY INDEX
TO BACK ISSUE PAGE