PHOTO COURTESY OF PARKS CANADA
The Clear Lake Cleanup team for 2012, including 43 students from Onanole Elementary School and Erickson Collegiate who joined Riding Mountain National Park staff in collecting garbage and recycling around the lake.
WASAGAMING — Forty-three students and teachers from Onanole Elementary School and Erickson Collegiate took part in the third annual Clear Lake Cleanup on Sept. 19 in Riding Mountain National Park.
(L-R) Liam Bachewich, Kaitlyn Gagnon, Zada Frey, Tanner Hanson, Owen Riffel and Mitch Collyer, all from Onanole, pitched in, finding among other things, picnic tables and a big chunk of carpet. The information collected by these young citizen scientists helps park officials identify new ways to stop litter at its source. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PARKS CANADA)
More than 150 kilograms of garbage and recycling was collected this year.
The Clear Lake Cleanup was one of more than 1,600 events held across Canada that made up the 19th annual Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. With 56,000 volunteers in 2011, the national cleanup is recognized as one of largest direct action conservation programs in the country. It works to preserve Canada’s fragile aquatic ecosystems.
For the third year in a row, Students Making a Difference (SMAD) — a group of Erickson Collegiate students whose objectives are to make a difference both locally and globally — helped co-ordinate the cleanup alongside Parks Canada staff.
"We strive to aid social justice and environmental causes, while also bringing awareness to others," said Grade 12 student Rebecca Kingdon, president of SMAD.
"We were very interested in the Clear Lake Cleanup from the moment we heard about it, wanting to help with such an important task that benefits not only our environment visibly and physically, but also the animals, and visitors that come every year."
SMAD accompanied the Grade 2 to 5 students from Onanole Elementary School and helped explain the environmental impacts of littering to the students while they were out doing the cleanup.
They also assisted by taking photos and recording all the litter that was collected.
SMAD students are also members of the Lake Group, a group of partners and stakeholders with interests in Clear Lake. At the next Lake Group meeting, the students will discuss the data collected at the cleanup and make recommendations based on the results.
At Clear Lake this year, as with previous years, smoking-related items such as cigarette butts are the most commonly picked-up type of litter.
One bright note was that in response to these consistently high counts, Riding Mountain National Park installed several cigarette disposal containers in the beach area this summer. The containers were well utilised and the number of cigarette butts collected in the vicinity of these containers was reduced.
Smokers are often unaware of the consequences of throwing their butts on the ground. When it rains, they float down the storm drains and out into the lake where they pose a threat to fish and other wildlife either when the toxins they contain are released, or when they are mistaken for food and eaten.
"The awareness that the cleanup data brings is making way for the improvement of our shorelines," said Kingdon. "We especially took note of the amount of smoking related debris, and thought that there should be more public awareness about the harsh consequences to the environment they cause, and also think there perhaps needs to be more places to dispose of cigarette butts."
The next most commonly picked up items were food wrappers and beverage containers. The park uses the cleanup information to identify areas with high incidences of litter, and place new garbage and recycling containers in those locations.
Some of the stranger items found this year included three picnic tables, a biohazard sign, carpet, and a skate guard.
Park Visitor Experience staff are particularly grateful for the return of the picnic tables which had been hauled off into a clearing and used for "social activities". Interestingly, unlike past years, no underwear was found this year, much to the dismay of some of the students who spend a lot of time speculating about how such articles of clothing can get lost in the first place.
The goal of the Clear Lake Cleanup is more than simply cleaning up the shoreline.
Groups of volunteer citizen scientists like the students from Erickson and Onanole help the park gather information that is used to try and address the problem of litter at its source. Concrete steps like more and better placed garbage and recycling receptacles, as well as raising public awareness about the consequences of littering, will hold the key to protecting Clear Lake for present and future generations.
"Our parks are such an important part of our future," Kingdon said, "so we must do our part to protect and preserve these great areas of unique environment.
"We are the generation of tomorrow and are doing what we can, so help us create a better, healthier future."
Parks Canada works to ensure Canada’s historic and natural heritage is protected and, through a network of 44 national parks, 167 national historic sites, and four national marine conservation areas, invites Canadians and people around the world to engage in personal moments of inspiring discovery at our treasured natural and historic places.
For more information about the cleanup, please visit parkscanada.gc.ca/riding, or shorelinecleanup.ca.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 18, 2012