Girl Guides of Canada is a non-profit organization that focuses on empowering young women in an inclusive atmosphere and supporting the vision of creating “a better world by girls.” I am a proud Guider of the 1st Port Morien Pathfinders, located on the beautiful Eastern coast of Cape Breton Island. We do a shoreline cleanup every year with our girls and it is an amazing way to give back to the community, preserve our beautiful coastline, and educate youth on environmental issues. As a full-time student, a Parks Canada employee, and a member of the 2018 Ocean Bridge Cohort, it is often difficult for me to plan my weekly meetings, but the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup’s online platform is easy to use and makes my life a lot easier when it comes to preparing a cleanup. (The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is also partnered with the Girl Guides of Canada.)
Girl Guides range from youngest to oldest in the following groups: Sparks, Brownies, Guides, Pathfinders and Rangers. My Pathfinders are all between the age of 12-15. As Pathfinders in the Girl Guides of Canada, young women are taught leadership skills, resourcefulness, and experessing themselves while recognizing one anothers’ diverse talents and abilities. This amazing organization is filled with girls who are eager to learn about STEM, culture, politics, business, the environment, and much more while under the mentorship of “Guiders” who volunteer their time to help a girl become everything she wants to be.
In my Cape Breton community alone, we have guiders who are nurses, doctors, mental health specialists, military personnel, business women, lawyers, historians, and environmentalists. As you can probably expect it is often difficult to engage teenagers on environmental conservation, and it’s even more challenging trying to convince teenagers to bring a thermos to the shoreline cleanup, rather than using the iconic Starbucks single-use cups and green straws. As a teenager, we’ve all felt the need to fit in and that thermos can be an ask too far.
But the 1st Port Morien Pathfinders are totally invested in guiding and what it means to be a part of their community At first they were a little hesitant about getting down and dirty and picking up someone else’s trash. But after an Earth Day meeting in April, where we discussed waste management, potable water, and plastics, the girls slowly became more aware and eager to learn about ocean-related issues. We did a cleanup test run at a local lake two weeks before the cleanup so that the girls would have an idea about what goes on and how to be safe and responsible during the cleanup.
Our cleanup at the Port Morien Sandbar, as part of Ocean Wise’s Ocean Bridge education program, was a huge success. The coastal area had not seen a deep clean for about four years and it was amazing the amount of garbage we pulled from the sandy shore. The Sandbar is home to many shorebird species such as blue herons, ducks, sandpipers, and terns whose habitats are greatly impacted by garbage and plastics. It was refreshing to clear away marine debris from such a beautiful beach, where many families spend long summer days playing in the sand dunes. I was disappointed seeing so much waste on our beach especially knowing that most of the garbage we collected was left on our shores intentionally by those coming to visit and enjoy my community. The amount of diapers we collected was completely preposterous. I was ashamed to see so many tires and fishing gear left abandoned on our beach.
But I was also amazed at how engaged the Pathfinders were at this event; it was truly inspiring to see them running around picking up everything from plastic bottles, to tampons, and even a mannequin head! They were thrilled with the results of the cleanup, especially seeing as the park around the lake is where many of them hangout with their friends. The volunteers at the cleanup also worked tirelessly to help pick up debris. A combination of Girl Guides, parents, Guiders, and community members all pitched in to help with our cleanup at the Port Morien Sandbar. It was amazing having people of all ages and backgrounds join us on our mission to remove waste from our community beach and engage in environmental preservation.
Throughout my years guiding, I’ve found that the best way to engage youth in ocean health and literacy is creating fun hands-on activities where they can physically and instantly see the results of their actions. Girl Guides of Canada, the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup and Ocean Bridge provide an amazing experience for youth who are interested in helping coastal communities. Ocean conservation, plastics, marine wildlife, erosion, and ocean acidification are all popular topics in today’s media and it is important for us to educate the youth of today on these highly relevant environmental issues. In doing so, we ensure that our communities continue to have an environmental focus for years to come as youth promote, protect, and preserve our beautiful planet.