Reconnecting with my country and my provinceI used to say that I knew Quebec because I had already travelled to a few regions such as Bas-Saint-Laurent and Gaspésie. I had been to Percé, Tadoussac, Rimouski, and to the Bic National Park. But, it's only in the past two years that I've truly started to explore Quebec. My work led me on the road, where I got to travel to every corner of this beautiful province with my sidekick—my boyfriend and business partner, Jean-Seb!
In 2012, during a scientific sailing expedition which I was a part of (I’m a marine biologist and a professional diver), I saw a sea of plastic stretching from Bermuda to Costa Rica. There were microparticles resembling small confetti piled three meters deep, as well as larger debris, intact objects that I used daily: water or shampoo bottles floating on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.
I saw this constantly, and not only at sea: on the beaches and shores, in the mangroves, in the rivers, lakes, and plenty established underwater… As if the ocean wanted to spit the excess plastic out. I witnessed throughout the years that this type of pollution is rising at an alarming rate in all the seas of the world. The impacts on wildlife, the ecosystems, climate change and… human health, are devastating.
« By 2030, the global production of plastic waste could increase by 41% & the amount accumulated in the ocean could DOUBLE »
Eventually, I returned to Quebec and decided to put down roots for the first time in 15 years. I had thought that pollution was mostly elsewhere, but quickly realized that our shorelines and rivers were not necessarily in a better condition than the beaches in Latin America or Asia, for example.
Thus, in May 2019, Jean-Sebastien and I began our 4-month shoreline clean-up RV tour of Eastern Canada. We travelled 12,000 km, documented and cleaned nearly 500,000 m2 of beaches, mostly on foot, but also while snorkeling, paddle boarding or canoeing. Exploring the Canadian coast allowed us to discover a unique, diverse, and impressive environment! We no longer feel the need to travel overseas. Quebec and the rest of the country has so much beauty, space, and natural resources to offer. Did you know that Canada has the longest coastline in the world, bordering 3 out of 5 oceans?
Although its many wonders, our country also has to face an unfortunate truth: plastic pollution is present in the Atlantic… and in our lakes and streams. There’s no escaping it. It’s not something you only see in India or the Pacific Islands. It's here.
- From Newfoundland to the Great Lakes
- 6 Canadian provinces
- 12,000 km by RV
- 500,000 m2 of shores cleaned
- 26 clean-ups
- 1000 volunteers
The St. Lawrence, one of the most important rivers in America and which connects the Great lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, runs through the province of Quebec. It is the only outlet from the Great Lakes Basin. In a way, it represents the vein of Quebec, flowing and spilling into the Atlantic. It contains a rich, but very fragile, biodiversity; think of the blue whale or the beluga whales, both endangered species. It also supports several economic sectors throughout the province, such as tourism and maritime activity.Unfortunately, because of pollution and human activity, the St. Laurence is in a poor condition. Seeing as it’s the heart of our beautiful province, it’s essential that we take good care of it.
Did you know that 80% of the plastic found in the oceans comes from rivers and streams? These tributaries tucked in the heart of the land carry the plastic and pollution to the oceans, which eventually swallows them up. Despite what some may think and despite the distance that separates many of us from the coast and the sea, our responsibility is far from small in North America.
The intention here isn’t to make anyone feel bad or guilty. But we must clearly begin by understanding the extent of the problem in our own country, in order to put into perspective, the initiatives that need to be taken to resolve it. The solution, for Jean-Sébastien and I, begins with awareness and action. But these are only two facets of so many actions that can be taken. This is why we collaborate with so many organizations: to encourage initiatives and help spread the word in a positive way.
In Canada, 9 % of plastics are recycled, 4% are incinerated and 86% end up in the landfill (2019).
Canada produces per capita, a "disproportionate" amount of waste.
Strength in Unity
Water sports are the perfect niche! Athletic communities use and recognize the importance of waterways. This unconditional love prompts them to get involved in cleaning initiatives. Whether the sport is freediving, scuba diving, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, canoeing, etc., everyone is affected.
Last summer, we decided to take our TAIGA paddle boards out on the rivers, lakes and even the St. Lawrence River of Quebec for paddle clean-ups. Our boards help us bring back waste found in the water. We simply use a bucket or attach a diving net to the front of the board to carry it back to the shore. We returned from every adventure with plastic that we found either floating on the surface of the water or tucked in banks that we wouldn’t have been able to access without our boards.
Calling all water lovers
Individually or in small groups, especially this summer, you can also connect with the #SaintLaurentswithoutLitter movement. Bring a bucket, or a bag to collect waste, which you can pick up on your next walk on the water or on the shore.
Seriously, every waste countsGo back to the source and notice the extent of the work to be done here. I am so proud to be from Quebec, but I have to admit that there is work and research to be done before a healthy balance can be achieved between our river, its biodiversity and how we, as humans, coexist with our environment.
Because we protect what we love.
Photos : Anne-Marie Asselin (co-founder of OB), Jean-Sébastien Létourneau and Richard Mardens