It’s been 10 years since I began working with the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup and in that time I’ve worn many different hats and experienced phenomenal changes. But first, let’s go back to the very beginning — to 1994 when a group of staff from the Vancouver Aquarium ventured down to their local shoreline to pick up trash. In the years to follow, Canadians from other provinces and territories wanted to get in on the action and it didn’t take long before we were a national program. To keep the national momentum of the program growing, an office in Toronto was established and that’s where my story begins.

The most striking thing I’ve noticed when looking back on 10 years is what didn’t exist back in 2006.

  • Social Media: A tweet? That’s the sound a bird makes (trust me on this, I love birds). Now, it’s one of our favourite ways to interact with our phenomenal volunteers while sharing marine debris trends and innovations in waste prevention. You can follow us @cleanshorelines (or on Facebook and Instagram).
  • A registration map: Could you imagine registering for a cleanup from a long list of locations on the website without the help of a map? I couldn’t either, but somehow we managed. Now, you can search our online map and pick an available location or even suggest a brand new area to clean.
Susan Debrecini (middle) celebrates 10 years with the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup in eastern Canada.

Susan Debreceni (middle) celebrates 10 years with the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup in eastern Canada.

  • Year-round cleanups: Back in the “old days,” cleanups were held during a single week in September. This was to coincide with the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup — a global event on the 3rd Saturday of every September. Can you believe that? Only seven days out of 365. Today, we still participate in this global event but also encourage cleanups to take place year-round.
  • 60,000+ volunteers: You read that right — we have more than 60,000 cleanup volunteers cleaning their shorelines annually and that number is growing. This is what I’m most proud of, and it’s my dream to have a Canada-wide tour to meet each and every one of them.
Shoreline cleanup at Woodbine beach, Toronto in 2007.

Shoreline cleanup at Woodbine beach, Toronto in 2007.

  • Microplastics: This is a tough one to think back on. I still remember hearing about the pacific gyre, and because of the headlines calling it a “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” around the “same size as Texas,” I pictured floating masses of trash in the ocean. We now know so much more about ocean gyres and the trash that accumulates, including microplastics. There is still a lot we don’t know and will continue to research until we do. Thankfully in the meantime, cleanup volunteers are ensuring litter is removed from the shoreline before it gets the chance to breakdown.

There’s a saying that goes, “the more things change, the more things say the same,” but I have to disagree. Just look at the list above, The Shoreline Cleanup has undergone so many changes over the years and as a result there is less trash on our shorelines — proof that things are changing. Shoreline cleanups will always be an important action and we now have the great pleasure of hearing from volunteers about how the location they used to clean isn’t dirty enough anymore. Not a bad problem to have, if you ask me.

By Susan Debreceni, outreach specialist, Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, presented by Loblaw Companies Limited and supported by Ricoh Canada and YVR, is a joint conservation initiative of the Vancouver Aquarium and WWF-Canada. Find out more at

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