Polluted coastlines: How a diver reinvented his career to clean up N.L.’s harbours

May 6, 2021
Environment
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Image Source: https://www.cbc.ca/

Shawn Bath had been a professional diver in the bays and inlets around Newfoundland for more than 21 years when he made a drastic career change.

His original job? Harvesting sea urchins off the ocean floor, a career not without its risks.

Those divers contend with dark, murky waters, sharp spines protruding from the bodies of this sought-after shellfish, and all the usual hazards that come with being a professional diver — including frostbite and decompression sickness.

It took a while for Bath to realize that the most dangerous thing in the ocean was the garbage nestled on the bottom.

“I used to toss bottles out the car window. I didn’t even think about it. I’d see the mess in the harbours and think, ‘This is disgusting,’ but I didn’t put two and two together,” he said.

“I was part of the problem.”

Bath assumed a government tender would one day call for divers to clean up the harbours. For years, he told himself he would be part of the solution at that time.

That call never came.

Bath found the path there himself. Now his work — which has drawn national media attention and has put a spotlight on the squalid state of coastlines around Newfoundland — is the focus of Hell or Clean Water, a new film that will be shown at Hot Docs, the Toronto festival that is one of the world’s best-known venues for documentaries.

A change of habit

Bath said his habits started to change through his girlfriend, who would be upset if he littered.

“[That] got me thinking.”

In 2018, he was collecting employment insurance and — “just to keep myself busy” — started hauling tires from the harbour in Bay Roberts.

“I pulled 15,000 pounds of trash out of the ocean by myself. I realized then the government was never going to clean up the area,” he said.

Bath changed his career and started a non-profit organization, Clean Harbours Initiative. He quickly sank most of his cash into the venture.

“I was broke and at a loss for how to keep doing this work. I needed gear. I needed volunteers. I needed to spread the message and raise awareness,” he said.

Story Source: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/shawn-bath-harbour-cleanup-documentary-1.5990740

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