Learning from others can help make something that seems intimidating, in fact, really easy to do. Like shoreline cleanups! Starting as a participant is a great way to learn the ropes before leading a cleanup of your very own. This is what volunteer Vanessa Fladmark did through the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. Vanessa is an all around ocean champion, as a volunteer on the shorelines, a researcher and an Ocean Bridge alumni. We got to know Vanessa in 2018 and caught up with her to learn more about what she’s learned over the past year.

What is your connection to the ocean?

I grew up in northern B.C. on Haida Gwaii, surrounded by ocean on every side, so it’s a big part of who I am as a Haida person and everything I’m striving for in my career as an oceanographer. When I was a little kid exploring North Beach, I would pick up the occasional plastic bottle that would wash up and bring it home to recycle it because I thought, “that doesn’t belong here!”

Vanessa began doing cleanups as a kid helping to clean plastic bottles off her shoreline in Haida Gwaii (Photo Credit: Conner McDowell).

You had a unique way of finding the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, what was it?

I found this organization through a partnership with the Ocean Leaders graduate program at UBC in 2017. I was in a graduate level course where each group had to tackle a project regarding the health of the local oceans. The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup provided us with the incredible data set that all volunteers contribute to during each cleanup when litter items are counted and recorded.

This collaborative research with my wonderful co-authors, Cassandra Konecny and Santiago de la Puente, resulted in a paper published in Marine Pollution Bulletin. The study was titled, “Towards Cleaner Shores: Assessing the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup’s most recent data on volunteer engagement and litter removal along the coast of British Columbia, Canada.”

How did you get started in participating in cleanups? 

I started joining Shoreline Cleanups in 2018 after the paper was published, I participated in seven cleanups during that year throughout Vancouver. That same year I also joined a volunteer service-learning program partnered through Ocean Wise called Ocean Bridge and had the opportunity to do cleanups in remote regions of Haida Gwaii.

Vanessa has become a pro in collecting litter data! She’s also done research in studying the litter data collected by the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (Photo Credit: Mo Phung).

What made you decide to start leading shoreline cleanups with your community? Have any stood out from the rest?

Realizing how easy it was! I had joined enough to see that all you need is gloves, bags, pens and data cards.

The cleanups on Haida Gwaii with Ocean Bridge were definitely the most powerful for me. We cleaned about 2,300 pounds of litter of all different shapes and sizes. None of us could have predicted it, the microplastics carpeting the sand, the bottles from around the world and huge floats, tires and fishing nets.  That was a turning point for me to really get the word out about this issue because it’s not just about the data and the numbers but how it felt to see my home beaches covered with all that plastic debris.

Ocean Bridge youth led a successful cleanup in Haida Gwaii (PC Mo Phung).

Any tips for participants looking to take the next step and lead a cleanup?

Join one and see how easy it is! When you are ready to lead a cleanup, start with just your friends and see if you want to expand from there. It can be a really fun day at the beach where you help the local ecosystems and get to relax after a job well done!

There’s a ripple effect in the act of cleaning your shoreline, by cleaning up we become more aware of waste we produce. I’ve noticed people in my life switching to reusable bags, containers, mugs and starting discussions on sustainability. Seeing others looking to reduce their use of single use plastics makes me incredibly hopeful.

I would also like to acknowledge two bright, inspirational members of the Ocean Bridge family, Danielle Moore and Micah Messent, who were a great source of support and encouragement for me on my journey in protecting oceans.  On March 10th, 2019 they tragically lost their lives while on their way to the U.N. Environment Assembly to represent Canadian youth on the world environmental stage. Danielle and Micah were so passionate about communities and the oceans that I will always do everything in my power to continue on their legacy for environmental advocacy.

If you’re interested in reading more about the wonderful work Dani and Micah were involved in or contributing to organizations important to them, please visit their family’s donation pages.

Danielle Moore: https://ca.gofundme.com/the-danielle-moore-memorial-fund

Micah Messent: https://ca.gofundme.com/6zz10qg

You can help the oceans and learn to lead a cleanup too! Join a shoreline cleanup near you to lend a hand and learn the ropes, or lead a small cleanup with family or friends to start. Learn more at: www.shorelinecleanup.ca

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