Natural environments are truly essential services that support life, protect against extremes and provide resources. We can still celebrate these beautiful surroundings, even if our Earth Day efforts look a bit different this year.
THE REALITY: While I can't speak for everyone, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by circumstances outside of my control. Taking my own small environmental actions helps me feel more positive and productive during this very unsteady time.
Recently, I went for a walk without intending to clean up litter, but grew increasingly frustrated with every bright piece of plastic I passed. I eventually gave in and resolved to only pick up Mylar balloons if I encountered them: I ended up collecting 15.
A few days later, I went out for a planned cleanup hike and it felt wonderful. I left the beach cleaner than I found it and enjoyed a lovely sunny afternoon with my mom and the sounds of waves, wind and bird calls.
I even found a few soft pieces of beach glass to use in my jewelry.
THE UGLY: After cleaning up just 500 metres of beach at Niagara Shores Park, I ended up with quite a heap of litter. The majority was plastic, including another 11 balloons.
I tried not to focus too much on collecting every tiny fragment but the closer I looked, the more I noticed.
Escaped balloons are even more prevalent now that traditional birthday parties aren't possible with COVID-19. Drive-by celebrations can be fun, but shouldn't leave a lasting impression on nearby natural areas.
I also found 65 plastic straws. While indoor dining is closed, waste from takeout has also skyrocketed.
Along the shoreline, there were also some painted rocks and “motivational graffiti.” Unfortunately, acrylic paint is a plastic coating that eventually flakes off.
Leaving these stones goes against the ideal “leave-no-trace” way to interact with natural environments. Temporarily displaying them on a porch or walkway is better, but Ontario Parks advises against painting stones.
Even if you use environmental paints, others might be inspired to follow your lead with less responsible materials.
THE HOPEFUL: As part of the town's environmental advisory committee, I had been helping to organize a garbage cleanup event for Earth Day on April 22. With the stay-at-home order, this group gathering has been postponed.
I fondly remember the shared feelings of responsibility and accomplishment from past Earth Day cleanups. But small, individual efforts are also extremely rewarding.
While already out for fresh air or exercise with your household, remove a bit of litter along the way, kind of like a belated Easter egg hunt. When you look closely at these blemishes, nature's beauty and complexity also becomes more apparent.
During my cleanup last week, I marvelled at hundreds of bank swallow burrows in the sandy bluffs. These at-risk birds will return later in April from their winter in South America.
How will you show the Earth your appreciation on April 22? And what new discoveries will you make about these essential services?
* If you do your own cleanup, wear gloves and avoid picking up hazardous materials. Please email pictures or tallies of items to email@example.com.
Kyra Simone is a NOTL-born nature lover with a master's degree in biology. In her spare time, she advocates for sustainable change, picks up garbage, makes recycled jewelry, and transforms furniture bound for the landfill.