The nearly 60,000 Canadians who participated in our Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanups last year know first-hand how small actions can add up to create a big impact. Something as simple as getting colleagues together to spend a lunch hour cleaning a local shoreline can eliminate kilograms of harmful debris from our waterways.

Unfortunately, small, often thoughtless, actions also have negative impacts. Such was the case for one underweight seal pup who was seriously injured after a tiny fragment of fishing net became wrapped around her neck last fall.

The female pup, thought to be five or six months old, was first sighted on a beach near Nanaimo on Dec. 11 last year. Initial attempts to rescue her were unsuccessful but a week later she turned up again, clearly in distress, and rescuers were able to reach her.

A volunteer wildlife rescue helicopter pilot Norm Snihur stepped up to transport the pup to the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre and when he was grounded by bad weather took the pup home and carefully removed the netting she was tangled in. The next day Harbour Air brought the seal pup to Vancouver for rehabilitation.

It doesn't take much for a small piece of marine debris to have a big impact on wild animals.

Underweight and severely injured, this little seal pup is just one example of the impact of marine debris.

That was just the beginning of her journey to recovery. Over the next two months the pup, who was  named Maëlle after snowboarder Maëlle Ricker, the first Canadian woman to win an Olympic gold medal on home soil, received expert care from the Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue team.

Weighing just nine kilograms and with a deep wound around her neck, Maëlle was given antibiotics, fluids and put on a feeding program to help her gain weight. She was the last of the 144 sick, injured or abandoned seal pups to be treated at the Rescue Centre in 2015, and, happily, one of the first to be released from the facility in 2016.

The frayed piece of fishing net caught around Maëlle's neck.

The frayed piece of fishing net caught around Maelle’s neck looks innocent enough.

On March 8, Maëlle met her namesake at Cates Park in North Vancouver, where the Olympian released her back into the wild.

“It’s an enormous honour to be invited to witness the release of the now-healthy seal pup that is named after me,” said Maëlle Ricker, the human. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to help raise awareness about the importance of cleaning up our Canadian shorelines to help protect aquatic ecosystems and wild animals like Maëlle.”

It’s a happy ending to a story that doesn’t end so well for the countless marine animals — including turtles, birds and fish — that become entangled in marine debris every day, said Kate Le Souef, manager of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. “This is a good reminder of what’s really at stake. This seal pup is one of the few lucky ones — the trash humans leave behind often has fatal consequences for wildlife in all our waters.”

Marine debris entanglement is a growing problem worldwide, with more than 200 species impacted by human litter that can ensnare them. Pinnipeds — seals and sea lions — are particularly susceptible because of their curious nature.

A fully recovered Maëlle takes one look back before swimming into the wild. She is one of the lucky ones.

A fully recovered, Maëlle takes one look back before swimming into the wild. She is one of the lucky ones.

But we are working to change that. Last year alone our Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanups kept more than 175,932 kilograms of litter from reaching our oceans, lakes, rivers, streams and other water systems. Registration is now open for another year. Let’s make this year even better, and make an even bigger impact on creating a better world.

Visit ShorelineCleanup.ca to find out how you can join a cleanup, or register as a site coordinator and organize your own.

Find out more about how your donations support sick and injured animals at our Marine Mammal Rescue Centre here.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, presented by Loblaw Companies Limited, is one of the largest direct action conservation programs in Canada. A conservation initiative of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre and WWF-Canada, the Shoreline Cleanup aims to promote understanding of shoreline litter issues by engaging Canadians to rehabilitate shoreline areas through cleanups.  ShorelineCleanup.ca

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