By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express/LJI Reporter
The goal is 420 km across Lake Ontario in 31 days and it’s all for one cause: to clean up the litter.
Rochelle Byrne is paddle boarding across Lake Ontario to raise awareness of litter and help reduce the amount along the way.
Founder and executive director of A Greener Future, Byrne’s organization works to clean up the litter along the shores of Lake Ontario from Kingston to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
She says they typically conduct about 100 litter cleanups each year as part of the Love Your Lake program, which include public events in which anyone can participate. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Byrne says they needed to switch things up this year.
“Because of COVID-19, we weren’t able to host any public events, so we decided to come up with something different that we could still engage people and hopefully raise awareness and get people involved from a digital standpoint,” she says.
Byrne, who currently lives in Oshawa, started her journey on July 1 in Kingston and will end around July 31 in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“I have a ground team that’s doing litter cleanups along the shore as I go,” she says, noting they’re being done on more of an individual basis, or in small groups, to make sure everyone is following physical distancing protocols.
As of July 27, Byrne has travelled as far as Humber Bay Park on the west side of Toronto so far, approximately 325 km into her 420 km trek across the lake. She stays with family members in various cities along her route so she doesn’t have to travel back home each time she gets out of the water.
Byrne says she expects to reach her destination in Niagara-on-the-Lake by this weekend.
“It’s definitely challenging,” says Byrne. “It’s a sport that’s not necessarily that hard in theory, but you do have to have really good balance.”
Byrne says she’s only been paddle boarding for about two years and credits her natural gift for the sport to her years of practicing yoga.
“I’m definitely not an expert, however maybe by the time I finish I will be,” she laughs. “It just came naturally to me when I first got on the board. I think because of yoga I have really good balance and core strength.”
Byrne says one of the challenges so far has been the change in weather conditions.
“When the wind and waves are blowing the right way it’s not hard to make progress, but if the wind is blowing in my face and pushing be backwards, it’s really hard to make progress,” she says, noting on a good day, she can travel about 5 km/h on the lake.
“If the wind is blowing against me it makes it so much harder,” she adds. “It’s physically harder, but it’s also mentally harder because I know it’s going to take me a lot longer to get to where I want to go.”
Byrne says she has mapped out her journey and uses an app called Windy, which predicts wind speeds.
Her paddle board is 14 feet long, which allows some extra space for Byrne to carry a few personal items with her while on the lake, including a lunch, water, towel, and a camera.
Byrne says surprisingly the days go by fairly fast because she’s focused on getting to where she needs to go.
“I mostly enjoy looking around. I’ve seen lots of wildlife, and it’s nice when I pass people on the shoreline and I can wave to them,” she says. “Sometimes I think about songs I like and I’ll sing, or I think about the movie Castaway sometimes, because I’m just floating along in the water for a very long time,” she laughs.
The Love Your Lake program is in its sixth year and since the program began, Byrne says they’ve collected 1.53 million pieces of litter along the shoreline of Lake Ontario.
While there are approximately 500 volunteers who come out each year to participate in the cleanup events, Byrne says they have only about 15 members and volunteers helping out this year due to the pandemic.
Despite that, Byrne says about 30 cleanups have been conducted so far between Kingston and Scarborough, and more than 18,000 pieces of litter have been collected.
“They’re still doing a really good job even though we’re very limited on volunteers,” says Byrne.
Byrne says the goal of the Love Your Lake program is to raise awareness about waste, specifically plastic that ends up in Lake Ontario.
“A lot of people don’t realize how much garbage and waste is ending up in the lake so when they come out and do a litter cleanup with us, they see that first hand,” she says, noting all the garbage is sorted and tallied so they can see the problem items.
“It’s a really educational program for the volunteers that come out,” says Byrne. “We try to share the information so people can have a better understanding of where waste is coming from and what they can do to help reduce waste… even bringing your own reusable water bottle everywhere you go would be a big help,” she adds.
“If everybody did that then we’d be finding a lot fewer plastic bottles when we do our cleanups.”
Byrne says she hopes once people realize what the problem is, it can help guide them to change and create less waste.
“I hope people understand what the issue is and then feel empowered to make a difference because every little bit counts,” she says.
Byrne says anyone wanting to get involved can visit AGreenerFuture.ca.