It’s not something or someone you see every day.
“This river is considered my home,” said mermaid Zenevieva a.k.a. Gray Young, sitting on the shore under the High Level Bridge in Lethbridge.
“I can’t necessarily clean up all by myself, so inspiring people to help with me is a really big thing I’m trying to do today.”
Saturday marked the Helen Schuler Nature Centre’s first Shoreline Cleanup. Taking place on the first Saturday of every month, it’s one of the many conservation efforts the centre runs throughout the year.
But, like many things over the last year and a half, the cleanups were put on hold in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zenevieva spends a lot of time down by the water. Lately, she’s noticed an increase in garbage being left behind.
“We’ve never seen litter like this before in the coulees,” she said, “let alone anywhere else.”
It’s part of what inspired her to take part in Saturday’s Shoreline Cleanup and hopefully get more people out.
Zenevieva said people will often stop to talk with her when she’s out swimming. Someone asked her for a photo and they got to talking about nature, the coulees and how much they both loved the area.
“It’s incredible to see so many people care about the environment,” said Zenevieva. “It’s what keeps the world spinning.”
Nick Toews was out on Saturday cleaning up the shoreline. With cooler temperatures on Saturday, he felt it was a good day to spend outside helping the community.
“We can finally get out and do a little something with the extra time we have now,” he said. “Because we find ourselves in the coulees a lot, it seems useful to double up that time maybe and put some time into the community.”
Toews said there was trash left behind in the coulees prior to the COVID-19 pandemic but it’s gotten significantly worse.
“It gotten to the point where we started to really question whether we had something going on because it was so frequent,” he said.
Siya Young was also out cleaning up on Saturday. She worries about the animals who live in the area.
“There’s a lot of garbage around,” she said. “And we don’t want animals to start eating it and get really sick.”
Taylor Hecker is a program leader with the Helen Schuler Nature Centre. He was out on Saturday handing out gloves, garbage bags and clipboards so people could track what they find during the cleanup.
He said every little bit of help counts.
“The stuff they’re picking up, they don’t realize the impact of it,” he said. “Even tiny things — like we see a lot of cigarette butts and little bits of plastic, and those things can accumulate in the wildlife and in the rivers.”
In 2019, 324 people took part in the monthly Shoreline Cleanups. The centre said 2,890 cigarette butts were collected, making up 37 per cent of the total garbage from the year. Plastic pieces were the next highest at 1,676, or 22 per cent, the organization said.
Zenevieva hopes that by swimming up to shore and engaging with the community, she will inspire kids and their parents to take part in the cleanups — something she called “building a world of awesomeness.”
There’s no time like the present, especially with virtually all restrictions being lifted earlier this week.
“We can start a new page, start trying to take better care of ourselves and maybe better care of the environment as well, and might as well have some fun with it. It never hurts to have some fun while we do some good stuff,” she said.
Hecker said he met Zenevieva and was happy she took part in cleaning up the shoreline.
“It’s always something new around here,” he said. “Definitely a unique experience.”