• Martine Panzica is a 2020 Ocean Bridge ambassador who developed a passion for environmental sustainability growing up in Caledon, Ont. (Photo: Martine Panzica)

For many Ocean Bridge youth ambassadors like myself, the program’s Learning Journeys are normally an opportunity to travel to special places in Canada to explore an environment that is new to you, and to immerse yourself in that environment from the lens of ocean sustainability. This year, however, Ocean Bridge’s Learning Journeys looked a little bit different due to COVID-19 and travel restrictions.

While many participants, who come from communities across Canada, both coastal and landlocked, were excited to travel outside of their home provinces to learn about different environments and ecosystems, the current pandemic restricted the journeys to inter-provincial voyages. For myself, living in the Atlantic bubble gave me the opportunity to join some of my Ocean Bridge peers on a local learning journey on the South and Eastern shores of Nova Scotia, the unceded land of Mi’kma’ki. Though it wasn’t the original plan when I joined the program, it turns out I am so thankful Ocean Bridge, which is an Ocean Wise and Canada Service Corps initiative, offered me the chance to re-examine the province I live in in a whole new light, to meet local people who work hard every day to conserve ocean health and promote sustainable cooperation and development.

In early October, we went on a three-day kayaking trip in the 100 Wild Islands. We first learned how to pack properly for backcountry kayak trips, how to waterproof our gear, and paddle in ocean waters. We started on our way, and leisurely paddled from island to island, as some curious seals followed us, their heads popping up to check us out. The water was clear and turquoise, with huge rock islands scattered as far as we could see. It was early October, so the leaves were changing, and the crisp fall air pushed us forward as we got to slowly explore this beautiful part of the province. It was quiet and pristine, and hard to imagine that we were only an hour outside of Halifax. We snorkelled in the ocean as the sun set, and in the last of the light got to catch a glimpse under the surface of a small island cove. It was amazing to see, in such a small section, just how much life and movement there was under the water. When it was dark, we saw bioluminescence in the water, and tried to stir up the waves on the shore to see more of the soft sparkles. The next day, we foraged for mushrooms, and learned about how important fungi are for our landscapes and ecosystems. I felt so grateful to experience and learn about the ecology and environment of this area by spending time with it. My Ocean Bridge peers and I discussed our relationships with the ocean, what had brought us all to this trip, and the projects we were passionate about delivering in our home communities. We got to learn through open conversations with one another, and through the exploration and admiration of the 100 Wild Islands. 

After we returned from kayaking, we returned to The Deanery Project in Ship Harbour, where we spent the rest of our Learning Journey. The Deanery Project is a non-profit organization that focuses on environmental education, skills building, arts, nature and community. The folks at The Deanery work on so many different types of projects, and they try to take into account the unique and individual needs of their communities to put forward environmentally sustainable solutions to these challenges.

At The Deanery, we had the opportunity to learn about many of the sustainability challenges that are taking place on the Eastern Shore, including the proposed development projects in the area of Owl’s Head, where 662 acres of Crown land could be sold for conversion into a golf course and private development. This plan would destroy many rare ecosystems, including the Broom Crowberry coastal barren, as well as the habitats for a variety of endangered species, such as the piping plover. The Owl’s Head land has not been officially sold yet, and many people in the community including those at the Deanery are working incredibly hard to protect the coastal land for its biodiversity and ecological importance, as well as the many benefits that its shared access offers to the public. The conversations we had at the Deanery with various local activists, artists, and environmentalists demonstrated just how layered practicing ocean sustainability is, and how influential our communities are in these decision-making processes. Challenges in ocean sustainability, especially land protection and sustainable development, require the collaboration of many different advocates of all backgrounds. 

This Learning Journey touched my heart deeply. It gave me the opportunity to experience places so close to home in a new way that renewed my appreciation and awe of the province I live in. It educated me on many ocean sustainability issues that currently need as much attention and support as possible. I learned so much from my fellow ambassadors and the many environmental advocates we met. I feel so lucky to be forging these incredibly meaningful connections, and to feel so united in an effort to create sustainable change for our environment and oceans for generations to come.