Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 27/4/2020 (537 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Kirsten Desorcy has an unusual claim to fame — she’s an ocean ambassador who lives in the heart of the Prairies.
"It does feel weird," Desorcy, 30, a marine biology student at the University of Manitoba, said from her home in Steinbach. "The other people in my program live by the ocean or on the coast or along the shoreline and I’m in Manitoba.
"I’m excited. I didn’t think I’d get chosen — but there are lakes and rivers in Manitoba; you just have to look for them. And we do have an ocean — it’s up north far, but we do have one. The access is through Hudson Bay."
Desorcy is one of 160 young people across the country selected this year as ocean ambassadors for Ocean Wise, a renowned global conservation organization based in Vancouver that’s dedicated to protecting and cleaning up oceans and waterways.
In the non-profit’s three-year-old Ocean Bridge youth program, Desorcy and the other ambassadors — she’s one of four in Manitoba — get free trips to special marine areas in the country, but are also required to launch conservation and service projects to improve their own communities.
Which is why Desorcy, a mother of two young daughters, uses her social media skills to promote a campaign that asks Manitobans to put on a pair of gloves and clean up their neighbourhoods while out walking by themselves or with their families during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Her goal is to have Manitobans pick up garbage while out walking, take photographs of their trash bags, then post the photos to their social media accounts with the hashtag #covid19pickupthattrash.
The newly minted ocean ambassador will then display the trashy family photos on her personal blog — desorcylab.webstarts.com — where she has a digital trash bag counter keeping track of how the cleanup is going.
"I love seeing all those trash bags and those smiling faces knowing they did a good job," she gushed. "They can either email the photos to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or they can tag me on social media or simply put the hashtag on the photo and I can find it on social media."
Desorcy said picking up trash in our own neighbourhoods is a simple and safe way to help the environment during the current novel coronavirus crisis.
"My goal at the start was to promote group trash collecting," she said. "If you look around Winnipeg, all you see is trash. It’s not good for the environment or the animals or the people.
"My first thought was organizing groups for trash pickup, but with COVID-19 that’s not possible. It’s still important to pick up trash, so I decided to encourage people to do it on solo walks or with their family. What better way to spend the time when schools are closed and the kids are at home?
"It gets people out of the house and thinking about other things than COVID-19. This is a positive thing we are doing. There’s a lot of bad going on with the coronavirus, but this is a silver lining. I’d love to see everybody take part in this, especially families. That way they can teach the children the importance of sustaining your environment."
Her initial goal was to see 50 bags collected, but now she’s hoping to post hundreds of photos. Even on the Prairies, she said, garbage pickup is an effective way to help clean our oceans and waterways.
"Trash is one of the biggest problems right now with ocean health," the biological studies student said. "Eighty per cent of all trash that makes it to the ocean comes from inland. All waterways, even the ditches and the sewers, lead to the ocean eventually."
Benjamin Aube, communications co-ordinator for the Ocean Bridge program, said a network of young ambassadors throughout the country is critical to increasing awareness of ocean-related conservation issues.
While the program has expanded its notion of community service because of coronavirus concerns, Aube said the Manitoba trash-pickup campaign fits perfectly with the goal of protecting the world’s oceans.
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"It does," he said. "Part of what the ocean ambassador youth do is 320 hours of community service related to the oceans. In general, picking up the trash is always a good thing… picking up trash will prevent it from getting into sewers and waterways.
"The goal is to increase ocean health and ocean literacy and knowledge across Canada. Healthy oceans and waterways are linked to healthy people."
For Desorcy, being named an ocean ambassador was a childhood dream come true. "I’ve been obsessed with marine ecosystems since I was a child," she said. "Any information on any animal, especially orcas, has been my passion since I’ve been able to read."
Which is why, at the age of 30, after eight years as an early childhood educator, she went back to university to take courses leading toward a career in marine biology.
"It’s very scary," she said, "but it’s very exciting to go out and do it at my age, but I’m ready for it now. You’ve got to do what you love."
Doug Speirs Columnist
Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.
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