Water Institute intern visually depicts years of Ontario shoreline cleanup data

Monday, January 14, 2019

Underscores value of citizen science and linking with stakeholders to refine and share research results

Nearly 95,700 Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup volunteers hauled approximately 263,000 kilograms of litter from Ontario shorelines between 2010-17. Volunteer citizen scientists have logged the amounts and types of litter they have found during their community cleanups, however this information has not often been utilized by researchers to explore notable trends over extended time periods.

Visiting Water Institute intern Irene van der Water, over the past several months, took the Ontario data and pieced together a telling snapshot of shoreline litter, much of which represents what has been found along the Great Lakes.

Notable insights include:

  • 21 animals were found alive with signs of entanglement
  • Some highly unusual finds included hair extensions and an artificial Christmas tree
  • Year after year, the top items found included single-use items such as cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic bottles and plastic bags

With a keen interest in accessing a region of the world with multiple shorelines, van der Water chose the Water Institute to host her while she analyzed Ontario shorelines for her undergraduate thesis on citizen science for HZ University of Applied Sciences in The Netherlands.

irene1“I was glad to see an increase in the number of cleanups, this almost doubled since 2010,” she says. “It was however shocking that, although the number of cleanups increased, the amount of waste being found is not yet decreasing, so there is still a lot of work to do.”

Van der Water shared her data visualization with the organizations who collaborate on the national shoreline cleanup — WWF-Canada and Ocean Wise staff — in a meeting in Toronto (pictured above) spearheaded by Water Institute knowledge mobilization specialist Nancy Goucher.

“This is a shining example of how researchers working with organizations external to the university can be mutually beneficial to all parties involved,” says Goucher.nancy goucher

The collaboration enabled van der Water to access previously unpublished data, and by presenting her research to the organizations involved, she was able to provide program staff with a new way to frame their data. She reinforced the value of their program from a research perspective. In addition, she demonstrated how the cleanup could be positioned as a citizen science initiative which could, in turn, could help inspire and strengthen volunteer engagement.

Her infographics and data visualizations have been made available to the organizations to share with volunteers who may wish to see their impact and how it compares with other volunteer data from the region.

“It was amazing to show my results to staff in Toronto,” van der Water says. “We discussed the implementation and possible improvements in their citizen science practices. It was also very useful to hear how my results could be visualized in a more effective way.”

View van der Water's "The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup" infographic

View/download shoreline cleanup data visualization. © Irene van der Water, all rights reserved.

Read more 

Read the report "From shopping carts to cigarette butts" by Irene van der Water — her personal analysis and account of her experience working on this thesis project.