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Volunteer scuba divers embark on underwater cleanup expedition of the St. Lawrence

ABOVE: Volunteer scuba divers embark on St. Lawrence water cleanup. Global's Anne Leclair reports.

One year to the day, the woman dubbed the Mermaid of the St. Lawrence Seaway — after having completed a two-day underwater expedition from L’Île-Perrot to Repentigny — is back in action propelling Operation Cleanup 360.

“For me, to go back to the river to clean it up is just giving back to nature,” said Nathalie Lasselin, a professional diver, filmmaker and explorer.

Half of all Quebecers and 80 per cent of Montrealers get their drinking water from the St. Lawrence River, a major source that’s clearly in need of a major clean up, said Lasselin.

READ MORE: ‘They can help and they are ignoring us’ says St. Lawrence River business owner amid flooding

“This river is pretty important,” she said.

“It’s so damn important because if I can’t drink water, in three to five days I’m basically going to be dead so I need to take care of that water. On top of that, it’s a gorgeous river.”

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Lasselin and her team, The Urban Water Odyssey, joined forces with other local environmental groups to clean up the iconic river and its banks.

WATCH (Sept. 20, 2018): Montreal diver goes 70 km underwater to raise awareness on water pollution

Montreal diver goes 70 km underwater to raise awareness on water pollution
Montreal diver goes 70 km underwater to raise awareness on water pollution

The goal of the 24-hour blitz is to remove one tonne of debris. Close to 80 scuba divers and volunteers are spending the day and night underwater until noon on Sunday. Within minutes of their underwater mission, clean-up crew fished out a rusted metal bin, a skateboard and dozens of beer bottles.

“I believe the people are more conscious now of not putting their trash in the water but there’s still a lot to repair from the past years,” said Jonathan Theoret from the non-profit organization GRAME. “But the wind is a big factor right now, everything that’s on the land goes in the water.”

The event attracted volunteers of all ages, including a young brother and sister who spent their Saturday morning cleaning up.

Scuba diver
Scuba diver Anne Leclair
Nathalie Lasselin
Nathalie Lasselin Anne Leclair
Thomas and Olivia Blanchet
Thomas and Olivia Blanchet Anne Leclair

“We found lots of cigarettes,” said nine-year-old Olivia Blanchet.

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Her younger brother Thomas walked away with buckets full of plastic bottles and straws.

Sylvain Marcotte is a volunteer diver who’s on his third expedition with Lasselin and her team. While he hopes to come back empty-handed, he knows there’s more than enough debris to keep them busy for months.

READ MORE: Unusual odour, taste in Vaudreuil water caused by filtration issue, city says

“We find mostly bottles and glass and aluminum cans. It’s amazing how much junk that we can find here,” Marcotte said.

Divers spotted an old bicycle frame and even a car near the Lachine Pier but will have to come back to recover the larger debris.

Operation Cleanup 360 will continue throughout the year in different locations around the island of Montreal, funded in part by the federal government’s climate change initiative.