For some, shoreline cleanups become an annual tradition that they look forward to every year. Scout Canada Leader, Henry Starzynski, started leading shoreline cleanups with his Ottawa 72nd group 12 years ago. For him, it was an opportunity to do something important with the youth, as well as a chance to make a lasting impact through education. Henry walks us through his journey of joining the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup and unpacks some great tips for fellow Scouts to take action.
What is your personal connection to your shoreline or waterway?
I’m not really a “water’ person.” I don’t swim well; my passion is cycling. But water and waterways are ubiquitous and critical to life for all of us. I’ve been around long enough to have seen some notable environmental disasters – Exxon Valdez, Walkerton, and Deepwater Horizon. You can’t help but be influenced by these and want to help change things.
Why did you want to clean up your local waterway?
Back in 2006, shoreline cleanups were getting lots of press. When I read about the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, I knew this would be a great hands-on activity that fit into our program for Beavers, Cubs, Scouts and Venturers. There was an educational component, and at the end of the cleanup you could see concretely what you had accomplished. I brought it to our group to become involved the following year. Now 12 years later, we are still cleaning up waterways and learning.
Who gets involved in the cleanup? Our group gets all age levels involved – Beavers (5-7), Cubs (8-10), Scouts (11-14) and Venturers (15-18). We also connect with the community and link with City of Ottawa’s Cleaning the Capital program which gets us supplies for free. Our local councillors love coming out to help too!
Do you have a cleanup that really stood out from the rest?
Our first cleanup was probably the most memorable – I didn’t know at all what to expect. We cleaned Nepean Creek, a little creek behind some parkland and soccer fields. I didn’t think we would find much. Well, we pulled out a bike, shopping cart, and at least one tire. I was stunned by the amount of stuff we took out of this one small creek. We went back the following year and got half of what we did the first year, which is a good thing!
What do you think the Scouts take away from their experience on the cleanup?
There is always a feeling of great accomplishment seeing the bags of trash at the end of the cleanup – it is something tangible to all. When we go back to the same place the following year and get less trash, well it means something is changing slowly! My hope for future years is that all Scouts that have participated will remember to treat our waters with respect and carry on this cleanup tradition wherever they end up. The educational aspect is just as important as the activity itself.
Any tips for Scouts looking to take part?
1. Check out the area and terrain to make sure it is appropriate.
2. Bring snacks! I bring reusable cups that I wash afterwards so I don’t have yet more styrofoam litter to pick up in future.
3. Try to find a story that relates to your local waterway or wildlife. For us here in Ottawa, it’s a story from a few years ago about a Great Blue Heron that got its beak stuck in a plastic six-pack holder. It eventually died because it could not open its beak to eat. A story like that brings the ‘why are we doing this’ closer to home.
4. Talk about the environment before the cleanup, and follow up afterwards. Shorelines can be cleaned anytime of year!
Are you a Scout or Guide group that wants to take action on your shoreline? We have the resources to help you get started, and crests to recognize your team after the cleanup. Register your cleanup today at www.shorelinecleanup.ca
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.