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Working as a kayak guide in Lower Prospect, Nova Scotia, Jennifer MacLatchy began to collect marine debris she came across while paddling. Surprised by the amount of litter she collected, Jennifer used her artistic background to document the finds and post them to social media. Three years later, she’s amassed hundreds of beach-trash photos on Instagram, raising awareness of plastic pollution with each and every image. As a friend of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, Jennifer shared her story with us.

Jennifer photographs the marine debris she collects while working as a kayak guide in Lower Prospect, Nova Scotia.

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup: Why do you call your photographs of marine debris “Ocean Treasures”?

Jennifer MacLatchy: I call my collections “Ocean Treasures” partly in order to change the way we think about trash. Perhaps if we valued this material and viewed it as treasure instead of trash, we might change how we use this resource. Many people are already aware that there is a plastic=pollution crisis in the ocean, but feel hopeless about being able to do anything about it. These pictures help me learn how to answer my clients on my kayaking tours when they ask, “who would just throw their garbage into the ocean?.”We shake our heads and paddle away in our plastic boats, eating snacks wrapped in plastic. These pictures help shed a light; their purpose is to make us question how we might act differently. As I learn more about the sources and impacts of plastic pollution, I challenge myself to make more responsible consumer choices in this plastic-dominated culture, and hope that others do the same.

GCSC: What reactions have you gotten from others?

JM: When clients on my kayaking tours or viewers of my photos see how much litter I’ve collected, many are surprised that there is so much garbage in the ocean, especially in an area perceived to be “wilderness.” So often we are used to ignoring garbage in our surroundings, and it doesn’t help that a lot of marine debris is hard to see—especially clear plastic bags. Other items can get tangled up in seaweed or camouflaged by algae. Since I started collecting marine litter I’ve learned how to notice it more.

GCSC: What motivates you to keep going?

JM: Part of what keeps me going is the prospect of finding interesting things that truly feel like “treasure” or items that I can work into my sculptures. When I think of my practice as a treasure hunt for art materials in this Anthropocene era, it becomes much more exciting. I’ve found many plastic beach toys in the shape of marine animals, countless balloons, every colour of rope, and hundreds of lobster trap tags that I collect and trace their origins. Sometimes these items come from faraway times and places. I also often find things with tooth marks on them, which is evidence that animals have tried to ingest them.

If I only consider reducing the amount of marine debris in the ocean, my efforts seem inconsequential. But when I consider the big difference that a small action might make for just one creature, it feels worthwhile.

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Together we can take a stand against shoreline litter. Lead or join a shoreline cleanup near you; any time of year (even the winter), anywhere land connects to water.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, presented by Loblaw Companies Limited, is one of the largest direct action conservation programs in Canada. A conservation partnership by Ocean Wise and WWF-Canada, the Shoreline Cleanup aims to promote understanding of shoreline litter issues by engaging Canadians to rehabilitate shoreline areas through cleanups. Find out more at www.shorelinecleanup.ca.

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