Roughly 395 miles from Maine’s southern coast sits Nova Scotia, one of 13 Canadian provinces and one of three Maritime Provinces. Between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, with a small portion touching Maine, is the Bay of Fundy, a beautiful and extremely unique area famous for its high tides (the highest in the world) and natural wonders like the Hopewell Rocks— looming sea stacks caused by tidal erosion. It is here between tides that you can walk the ocean floor, and where its shoreline cliffs and beaches are home to the world’s most complete fossil record of life 300 million years ago (it is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site AND a UNESCO Global Geopark).

Karen Jenner, a local to the region, has been walking the Bay of Fundy shores for years, but in 2018 came upon a problem: “One day at the beach I took notice in a different way of the debris that regularly comes ashore,” she described. “Because of the way the currents flow in the Gulf of Maine, debris also ends up here from the US’s eastern seaboard and sometimes even further south. I started picking up one item only and was really surprised at how quickly I had collected 500!”

Almost five years later, Karen has removed over 31,772 pounds of trash from the Bay of Fundy’s shores. I was lucky to meet with Karen to learn more about her project.

The beautiful Bay of Fundy with a clean shoreline. | Credit: Karen Jenner

“Most of what is found on the Bay of Fundy shoreline is from the commercial fishing industry from both Canada and the U.S.,” Karen explained. “Rope is the item that comes ashore in the greatest quantity…There are other fishery-related items, lobster claw bands, pieces or whole lobster traps, bait bags, crates, and so on. There are also non-fishery items, lots of balloons and ribbons, shotgun shells and wads, tampon applicators, cigarette lighters, and food containers, the list is endless. The greatest percentage of everything is some kind of plastic. Far too many single-use items come ashore.”

Odds and ends removed from the shoreline on a recent haul. | Credit: Karen Jenner

What makes Karen’s cleanup project unique is that she is documenting, counting, and reporting her findings with educational photos and commentary on her Facebook Page, Nova Scotia Beach Garbage Awareness, now with over 5,000 people following along. The images and debris totals leave a stark visual representation of what we often don’t see on a day at the beach.

“The amount of debris that comes ashore has shocked me. It doesn’t matter how much is removed from the shoreline, the tides keep bringing it in. The winter, spring, and fall are the busiest seasons for shoreline debris. Trash that comes ashore can end up going back out to the water with high tides or storms. So there is an urgency to remove what is there on any particular day.” Safety is also a concern for Karen while doing cleanups—being aware of the incoming tide and schedules is crucial, as well as gearing up in the winter months. In addition, the shoreline cliffs are constantly eroding and rock falls from the cliffs happen without warning. Says Karen, “the Bay of Fundy has an extremely unique and diverse ecosystem. This fascinating place is a privilege to clean!”

To protect herself from the elements while working, Karen layers up in the EMS Vortex Midlayer Jacket, the Thunderhead Peak system, Field Gloves, and EMS ice talons for the winter months.

What started as routine walks on the beach to clear the mind and collect rocks became a calling of sorts for Karen Jenner. Her advice?

“Anyone can do what I do. They don’t have to do the posting on Facebook or the counting and weighing, just simply remove anything on the shoreline that should not be there. It can be one thing or a bag full. There is not an amount that is too little to remove! Join a shoreline clean up or go out on your own, which is what I like to do. Be aware of your single-use plastic usage, try to reduce it. Teach your kids!”