The Polar Prince off the shore of Anticosti Island/Ile d’Anticosti, Que.
“Lucky” and “beautiful” were two of the words often heard on the Polar Prince ship on Leg 3 of the Canada C3 expedition. I can’t remember how many times fellow participant Anna and I have had conversations where we just said “It’s so beautiful” or “how lucky are we?!” about the environment that surrounded us.
I live in New Brunswick, so I didn’t even go to far-flung Arctic waters or the west coast as Leg 3 only covered parts of Quebec, New Brunswick and PEI. But this country is so beautiful, you only have to look to the waters around you to see how lucky we are to call this place home.
Sadly, though, the environment isn’t always top-of-mind for many people. I’ll admit, I often take for granted the fact that the air I breathe is a lot cleaner than in many places on earth, or that much of our waters are still safe enough to swim in, or that I can drink the tap water in my apartment. (Tragic fact: A lot of indigenous reserves in Canada don’t even have that basic water need met.)
At breakfast on the ship one morning, chief scientist Mike shared a statistic he found alarming: there will be more plastic than fish (by weight) in the world’s oceans by 2050. This prediction was made in a report prepared for the World Economic Forum. Imagine!
I asked him what he thought about people’s skepticism when it comes to conservation efforts. From my conversations prior to C3, I realized that many people think individual efforts to help protect the environment won’t be enough, so they don’t try at all. Besides, I said, many people are still too concerned about where their next meal will come from or how they’ll pay their bills to be supportive of environmentally-friendly efforts, which can be costly initially but good in the long term.
But Mike responded with an inspiring story about a boy who saw thousands of starfish stranded on a beach. He started tossing them back to the sea, one by one. A friend saw him and said, “What are you doing? You’ll never get them all back in the water! It won’t make a difference!” The boy kept on, tossing another starfish into the water. “For this one, it will,” he said.
Maybe it’s difficult to relate to the fears of island nations who actually face losing their country to rising sea levels due to climate change. But we really don’t have to look far to see such an impact. On our journey, we saw the impact of erosion that’s worsened by the decline of ice sheets in the beautiful Magdalen Islands in Quebec. A 2015 study also highlighted the threat that climate change poses to the water supply of communities on the islands.
A part of an eroded cliff one the Magdalen Islands/Les Iles de la Madeleine.
Canada C3 has opened my eyes to this and many more issues facing the country’s environment and the lives within it, including the recent deaths of the endangered North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Parks Canada and other partner organizations and municipalities helped in my learning process in a big way. The scientists on board also instilled in me a feeling of excitement about nature. If you saw how Mike reacted when he spotted a Gannet after showing us how to watch for sea birds as part of a citizen-science project, you’d be jumping up and down too!
As the 10-day leg came towards its end, I had a chat about gratitude with Ben, another scientist on board. We talked about how much the voyage has restored this feeling in us. Today, I am reminded of our conversation as I thought about the health of our planet. So often, we forget to be grateful for the beauty that surrounds us and the things nature has graciously provided for us to survive. And that’s where we can begin, by being grateful for this water, air and land.
One of the things I learned from our Indigenous friends on board was their teachings of giving back to, and taking care of mother nature. I hope we can all make conscious efforts to get to know our environment better, and hopefully be like the boy with the starfish, making a difference, even a little bit.
Monoliths at Quarry Island/Ile Quarry on the Mingan Archipelago, Que.
Puffin Island/L’ile-aux-Perroquets on the Mingan Archipelago, Que.