Earlier this month, I got the opportunity to sit down with Madison, a local from Thunder Bay who has had the unique opportunity to be involved with Oceanbridge.
- What is the difference between Oceanwise and Oceanbridge?
Oceanwise is an organization based out of Vancouver that is specifically related to sustainable seafood fishing. It is also linked to the Vancouver aquarium. Oceanwise are their own umbrella organization. They do education and outreach with good resources online about sustainable fish choices and mercury contamination in fish. Through Oceanwise and the Vancouver Aquarium (which is really under threat), they received funding through the Canada Service Corps which Patty Hajdu and Justin Trudeau were a part of. With that funding they created Oceanbridge. This is the third year that Oceanbridge has been running. The goal of Oceanbridge is to engage youth across Canada (18-30 years of age). In the first two years they had 40 youth, but this year they have a lot more engagement. The goal of the engagement is that for every youth they would commit to 300-350 community service hours in their own community and that would engage more youth and that number would multiply. As a result, there would be a lot more discussion, learning, and connecting the community to water as a whole, not just ocean, but rivers and lakes too.
- How is Oceanbridge connected to water? What do you do with regards to water?
Oceanbridge is about community as well as creating a service-based culture that connects youth to water. That could look like a lot of things such as shoreline cleanup, a poetry reading about the ocean, starting an Instagram page about how plastics in body care products are ending up in the ocean, or talking about sustainable seafood, doing stand-up paddle boarding and engaging youth with recreation on the water. It can be very broad. The idea is to connect youth to water in a meaningful way where they can establish or strength their relationship to water to be an advocate and avoice for it.
- What has your experience with Oceanbridge been?
I was in the second-year cohort. I applied to Oceanbridge very last minute. I had found it on the internet and thought “this looks awesome”. I was driving home from a trip and got accepted and I was super elated. For me it was the first outreach I had done specifically connected with water. Water is something that is very important to me, but I didn’t really have a platform to engage with other youth and that’s what it gave me. Every week we had a mentorship with some of the Oceanbridge employees who are very educated and accomplished people. That mentorship provided structure, it allowed me to bounce back ideas and explore different things. I could ask “if I want to do this, how would I go about that?” and they would provide us with a mentorship call and connect us to grants. This was really valuable for me to build a foundation doing activism work. I don’t come from Vancouver or Toronto or a big city and I found that there hasn’t been a ton of this information available. I think it was a similar experience for people who live in other remote areas of Canada. We also got to go on 2 service trips. Being able to connect with 39 other youth felt very energizing and inspiring. Those are friendships I have maintained. I have met up with people from Yellowknife, Vancouver and Toronto. It is also a continued online community supporting one another. It has also provided a lot of role models where I’ll be like “wow you’re doing so many cool things”. Creating that cross-Canada community where we are all connected through water has provided a very strong foundation. As it keeps growing, the community will keep growing.
- What work have you done or have planned with regards to Lake Superior?
I have led some shoreline clean-ups and have spent a big chunk of my time working and volunteering with the SEED change project. The SEED change project is based out of Minnesota and discusses sailing and climate change. I was doing both at the same time. It was cool to link resources from Oceanbridge with SEED. I also discussed microplastics in Lake Superior. I made a short film and created resources. We were going into schools both on the U.S. side and in Marathon, Nipigon, and Terrace Bay and that felt very valuable. I continued those presentations at high schools in the city. And then I was travelling in the ocean. I haven’t actually finished all these projects that I started, partly because of travelling across the ocean and partly due to covid-19. They are still ideas that I would like to continue doing. Although they are not done, they are there. I feel that Oceanbridge has given me the foundation and support to work off of that I maybe didn’t feel before.
- Can you go into specifics about your ideas?
I want to create a youth coalition specifically focused on Lake Superior and advocate for it. I also incorporate more elements of culture and increase youth engagement with the lake. How can we get more kids kayaking, sailing, or actually experiencing Lake Superior? How can we have a group of individuals advocating for the lake on a provincial scale, and a municipal scale? But then also drawing it back to a worldview and the importance of this lake. Creating an actual committed voice for Lake Superior. The groundwork is there I just need to launch it. There is definitely fear and hesitation still, but the idea is still very important and needs to happen.
- How has covid impacted your involvement?
I was in last year’s cohert and my term technically ended in February. At that time I was sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. For this year it’s been interesting following what they’re doing. It is definitely less large-scale community gatherings and more tight-knit groups. The summer before last, we were able to engage with the Red Rock First Nation, and the Pic River First Nation. We were there for National Indigenous Peoples day and were actually able to engage with the community. Whereas this year I think that is very limited. For myself, my community engagement has been different. I have worked in the bush all summer and I don’t feel like there is room for human to human building in any way. I look forward to the summer where we can run a youth kayaking trip for youth or something similar. When the lake is only thawed for such a short period of time it feels like we’ve missed a season.
- Do you have any calls of action for people to get involved with water advocacy and water health?
I think a really good starting point is finding a really authentic connection to water that you care about. If you love fishing on inland lakes, then talk about how the health of those lakes has changed because of dams or the mercury levels in fish. If you love sailing, talk about the changes in weather and how climate change is affecting Lake Superior. Find something you are quite passionate about and also find something your good at within that issue and then you can link the two together and create a change. With regards to Lake Superior specifically, I think we feel that lake is so old and non-changing that we maybe aren’t realize how much it is changing. Taking note on the impact climate change is having on Lake Superior as one of the world’s fastest warming lakes and the implications it has on all the fish that call it home, for people who ice fish, for weather patterns, and for the arctic plants on the north shore is a good starting point. Also, when we talk about plastics in the ocean to also note that are huge amounts of plastic and microplastics in Lake Superior and we’re not safe from that problem. I think with people really caring about the oceans that that those topics can be applied to Lake Superior on a different scale. We can talk about those similar issues such as plastic pollution and the way they apply to Lake Superior and that people can channel their energy locally. And lastly, as one of the world’s largest bodies of fresh water to also take that into account. If doing no action feels right to you, then a simple acknowledgment and gratitude to remember that this is a huge privilege to we have to live here. With that comes responsibility. And if you’re not ready to take responsibility that’s fine, but just acknowledge this gift and the privilege of this body of water.
- How can people get involved with Oceanbridge? And if they’re not a youth, how can they get involved with water advocacy within their own community?
Oceanbridge recommend people apply. They now have 3 cohorts across Canada so this year there are 120 youth involved. I really recommend youth checking it out. I would recommend applying if it’s something that interests you. If you’re not young, or if that doesn’t feel right for you, I recommend trying to follow Facebook or Instagram pages such as Infosuperior, EcoSuperior, Science North, or any other organization that does community engagement with the water. If none of that feels right and you don’t want to do anything with the public. You can also bring a plastic bag when you go for a walk along the lakefront and pick up litter as you walk. It can also be simple changes such as looking at where your seafood is coming from and looking for the Oceanwise logo on the seafood you buy or changing your diet so you’re eating less seafood from the ocean. There are so many small changes that can affect both the ocean’s health and lake superior’s health that feel empowering. I think that once people take the responsibility to start looking where their seafood is coming from, they usually don’t stop there. Once they do that for a little while they think “oh that was easy” and leads to bigger movement. Same with picking up some garbage, you fill a big up a full bag of garbage and realize that there’s still lots of garbage so maybe next time you bring a friend. I think that it doeasn;t have to be big actions. It can be these small little acts and you can talk to you friends about how you see a problem and how can we come together and fix it?
- As a concluding question, what changes do you wish to see in the future?
As far as Lake Superior, I feel happy to a degree, that the Lake Superior marine Conservation area is a thing. It has big implications for protecting that region of the lake. I would like to see more action taken on a national scale in terms of protecting the lake as a “national treasure”, which is a funny way to put it, but it is. And what that looks like between us and the U.S. I think that’s another part that feels very vague. I’m like “What are our agreements between the U.S. and Canada on protecting the lake? Do we have any common goals?” I know there are some frameworks that have been put in place, but how can both countries on both sides of this lake agree to protect this body of water. I feel like youth can be really impactful with igniting change.
Water quality is critical for both human and environmental health. Although the world briefly paused in March 2020, life has begun to resume some sort of normalcy and the government of Ontario has just released funding to improve the health of the Great Lakes. Great Lakes water quality is so important. The Great Lakes store about 20% of the world’s freshwater, but only about 1% of the world’s renewable freshwater (the percentage of water that is replenished each year) (Source) . Canada as a country has approximately 6.5% of the world’s renewable freshwater supply, but the majority of the water is in Canada’s north and is not usable by the majority of the population (Bakker, 2007).
Water quality in the Great Lakes is so important to protect because of the ecosystem services, recreation, energy, and economy it provides. The Great Lakes are facing increasing threats from harmful pollutants, increased population, increased phosphorus loads, invasive species, to climate change and many more. The Government of Ontario is providing over $5.8 million to fund over 65 projects in 2020 to help improve the health of the Great Lakes.
Some of the local projects being funded to address issues in the Thunder Bay/Lake Superior watershed are:
|Recipient||Description of Project||Funding ($)|
|EcoSuperior Environment Programs||Implement the Lake Superior Lakewide Action and Management Plan and increase awareness on protecting and restoring Lake Superior through outreach and education||$163,087.00|
|Lakehead University||Provide administrative and coordination support for Lake Superior North Shore Areas of Concern||$87,200.00|
|Lakehead University||Improve understanding of climate impacts and the relationship between climate and water in Neebing River||$182,900.00|
|The Friends of Chippewa Park||Breakwater Removal at Chippewa Park Main Beach to Improve Water Quality||$75,000.00|
The projects are run by organizations, communities, universities, and Indigenous peoples throughout the province. There are area/lake specific projects, as well as, projects that address issues facing the Great Lakes as a whole.
Protecting the Great Lakes is vital so that current and future generations can enjoy what the Great Lakes. Where areas have declined in quality, the projects work to restore the ecosystem to good health to provide water where people can swim, drink, and fish.
For more information visit:
Supporting Projects to Improve the Heath of the Great Lakes
Bakker, K. (2007). Eau Canada: The future of Canadian water. Place of publication not identified: UBC.