In the early 2010s I was hired by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper to help conduct research on Ontario’s beaches—their location, beach amenities, and frequency of water quality testing. This data was being collected as part of Swim Guide, a smartphone app and website that connects people to their local beaches and uses real-time water quality information to let them know when it’s safe to swim. As Swim Guide grew, this research expanded to include beaches across Canada and the United States. Fast forward to 2018 and Swim Guide now provides information for over 7,000 beaches, lakes, and rivers across six countries—Canada, the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, and Bahamas.
There are a lot of preconceived notions about the swimmability of our lakes, rivers, and even oceans—I’ve received some questionable looks when I’ve told people that I swim at Toronto’s beaches. And while flooding, sewage, and contaminated runoff can render some of the city’s beaches unswimmable, eight of Toronto’s eleven beaches typically meet the standards of the Blue Flag program, an eco-certification for marinas and beaches.
The lack of awareness around water quality issues creates a physical and mental disconnect between people and their local waterbodies. People don’t necessarily want to protect what they don’t feel connected with. Swim Guide challenges this disengagement by reconnecting people with the water in an accessible way. In addition to equipping recreational water users with the information they need to swim safely, Swim Guide provides weather forecasts, beach popularity, and an easy way to report pollution. As of this time last year, Swim Guide had 1 million users marking a huge win for those who care about swimmable water!
Whether you enjoy swimming, paddling, or surfing, it’s never too early to start planning your next trip to the beach. Check out Swim Guide to find out the water quality at your favourite swimming hole.
Allison is a citizen arborist, travel fiend, amateur birder, and baseball nut who lives in Toronto with her husband and their two dogs, Buster and Fox.