Tommy Thompson Park: Exploring the Creation of a Biodiversity Hotspot at IAGLR

Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) is thrilled to co-host the 66th annual International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR) conference with Toronto Metropolitan University. From May 8 to 12, 2023, scientists, policymakers, researchers, and stakeholders will gather in downtown Toronto to discuss current research and emerging issues affecting the Great Lakes region.

IAGLR 2023 will feature four days of scientific sessions at which many TRCA subject matter experts will present topics related to this year’s theme: Adapting to Climate Change.

One of the sessions is hosted by TRCA’s Andrea Chreston, who leads park operations, natural area management, wildlife management and monitoring, and communications at Tommy Thompson Park (TTP).

aerial view of Tommy Thompson Park
The land on which Tommy Thompson Park is located, the Leslie Street Spit, is entirely human-made. Constructed from millions of cubic metres of concrete, earth fill, and dredged sand, the site extends approximately five km into Lake Ontario, and is 500 hectares in size.

In her presentation, “Evolution of an Urban Wilderness: 27 Years of Habitat Restoration, Monitoring and Public Engagement”, she will introduce the Leslie Street Spit and TTP to attendees as a biodiversity hotspot.

Initially intended for port-related infrastructure, the Leslie Street Spit is an accidental wilderness that has evolved into a public park.

Land use needs shifted during construction in the 1960s, and through natural succession and strategic terrestrial and aquatic habitat enhancement and creation projects, this site is now one of Toronto’s favourite waterfront wilderness locations. Read more about the evolution of Tommy Thompson Park.

wetland area at Tommy Thompson Park
The “accidental wilderness” of Tommy Thompson Park is one of the Toronto region’s prime destinations for wildlife watchers.

The Leslie Street Spit and TTP represent some of the largest existing natural habitats on the Toronto waterfront, encompassing wildflower meadows, cottonwood forests, coastal marshes, cobble beaches, and rich aquatic habitat.

Wildlife, especially birds, flourishes at the park, making it one of the best nature-watching areas in the Greater Toronto Area. At least 332 bird species have been recorded at TTP.

colony of double crested cormorants at Tommy Thompson Park
Tommy Thompson Park is home to one of the largest Double-crested Cormorant colonies in North America.

Yellow Warblers
Tommy Thompson Park is an important stopover for many species of migratory songbirds, such as the Yellow Warbler. Photo: Jack Alvo.

In 2022, TTP was designated as one of Canada’s Key Biodiversity Areas of global significance.

Since TTP provides a unique location to monitor bird populations and offer outreach and education programs, TRCA operates the Tommy Thompson Park Bird Research Station (TTPBRS). The TTPBRS team works to improve the understanding and protection of birds and their habitats through monitoring, research, and education.

young visitors watch a bird being banded at the Tommy Thompson Park Bird Research Station
Students watch a bird being banded at the Tommy Thompson Park Bird Research Station.

This goal is achieved through daily observation (recording birds seen and heard) and capture programs (bird banding) during spring and fall migration. Monitoring results helps TRCA evaluate the success of restoration work and guides future restoration and management locally and nationally.

Want to experience the biodiversity of Tommy Thompson Park in person? TRCA hosts its annual Spring Bird Festival at TTP on Saturday May 13. This free event celebrates the fascinating phenomenon of bird migration, and marks the 20th anniversary of the TTP Bird Research Station. Learn more and register!

visitors on the lookout for migratory birds during the Spring Bird Festival at Tommy Thompson Park
Visitors on the lookout for migratory birds during the Spring Bird Festival at Tommy Thompson Park.

Check out the IAGLR program to read more about the many great presentations at the conference. Don’t forget to follow TRCA on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram, where we’ll be featuring more of our subject matter experts throughout the week!