O’Brien collecting water samples from Soyers Lake, Ont. (Photo courtesy Isabella O’Brien)
Some organizations, like the Friends of the Muskoka Watershed, have already attempted to return calcium to lakes through projects of their own. The organization launched Canada’s first residential wood ash recycling program, taking wood ash and sprinkling it in test plots in Muskoka’s maple sugar bushes. This enhances the health of both trees and lakes, according to Norman Yan, chair of Friends of the Muskoka Watershed.
Yan acted as a scientific advisor for O’Brien’s lake calcium project three years ago, and says he holds her in very high regard. Using pulverized shells to help return calcium to lakes makes sense in the Maritime provinces, where oyster shells are readily available, he says. In Ontario, on the other hand, using wood ash to help return calcium to lakes and forests is proving effective.
“Everything is connected,” he says. “We’ve been depleting the soils of Eastern North America by acid rain for half a century. It’s time to start behaving like gardeners and bring those nutrients back.”
Inspiring the next generation
Now a student at the University of Southern California, O’Brien says she has decided to focus her studies on environmental politics.
“I’ve found that for so many of these environmental issues like calcium decline, we have different solutions available, but we are not having them implemented in policy,” she says.
She says she hopes to be able to inspire youth to also take action on environmental issues that are important to them. O’Brien recalls a time a girl came up to her, saying she was so inspired by her science fair project that she decided to conduct her own.
“That just kind of blew my mind. To have someone my own age who read about my project and then decided to also enter a science fair project is just really exciting,” O’Brien says. “I not only inspired her, but she actually took action and did her own project. That is just fantastic.”