shedd aquarium

Kayak for Conservation in the Chicago River

Months ago, I signed up to be a citizen scientist with the Shedd Aquarium’s Kayak for Conservation program, and on Saturday, I finally got to be one!

We met near Chicago’s Goose Island for a quick discussion about paddling and what we would be looking out for.

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Before I knew it, myself and about 10 other citizen scientists, slid into the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River with a representative from the Shedd and one from Urban Rivers. 

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We visited Shedd’s River Island and Urban River’s floating islands to do some wildlife monitoring. We jotted down the date, temperature, and weather conditions and were then each assigned wildlife to look out for along the vegetation.

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I had the chance to monitor pollinators, which meant we sat for 2 minutes and counted the number of pollinators that flew by. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a breezy day so many of the pollinators were hunkered down.

Other volunteers checked fish traps and counted turtles – which we saw 4 of!

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This data will help scientist learn more about restoring the ecology of the Chicago River and other urban rivers. Shedd’s River Island is only a few months old, while Urban River’s island was installed last year (remember, I helped put them together!), providing a great opportunity to compare their productivity over time.

Even though Shedd’s River Island is relatively young, the vegetation was growing nice and tall due to all the nutrients the plants pull from the river.

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It was an amazing opportunity to get to see the very islands I helped plant become fruitful homes to river wildlife. It also was my first time kayaking on the river and admittedly it was actually really nice.

Sure, there was a bunch of trash mingling along the sides of the seawall, but there were birds flying overhead, bugs buzzing, and turtles sunbathing.

It felt like progress to me.

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Who is Bea Johnson?

While most people involved in reducing their waste have heard of her, most of my friends and family who read this blog have no idea who Bea Johnson is.

Well, Bea Johnson, of Zero Waste Home, started the whole Fit-My-Entire-Family’s-Annual-Waste-in-A-Mason-Jar trend.

That’s right.

Her family of four can fit all the waste that they produce annually in one jar.

 

This is her family’s waste for 2017. Source: https://zerowastehome.com/about/bea/

The reason I am bringing her up is because I had the opportunity to hear her speak on Monday at the Shedd Aquarium thanks to an event put on by my buds over at Zero Waste Chicago.

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I have not been to the Shedd in ages, mostly because I am terrified of fish and only like free museums, but they are super involved in conservation through their Great Lakes Action Days and plastic waste reduction through their Shedd the Straw campaign.

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The evening started out with an action expo of numerous local organizations and businesses striving to reduce their waste. I knew most of the organizations in some way or another and got to see a lot of familiar faces.

I did get to pick up some low-waste powder laundry detergent from Meliora Cleaning Products, which I am super excited to test out. That’s a post for another day.

After the expo, we filed into the auditorium to hear Bea speak about living without waste.

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Bea’s journey to a zero waste lifestyle started in 2006 when her family first moved to be closer to town and it’s walkability. She outlined her failures with making her own cosmetics, shampoo, and even toilet paper.

She and her family follow the 5 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, & Rot, which I have posted about before.

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Her family refuses what they do not need and say no to single-use plastics, promotional freebies, junk mail, business cards, and more.

Then they reduce what they actually need. One thing that she said really struck me, “Once we pass our comfort level, anything beyond that becomes excess.” That is absolutely true. She has 4 kitchen cooking utensils, uses only white vinegar and Castille soap to clean, and her entire wardrobe can fit in a carry-on suitcase.

The family approaches reuse by swapping out disposables for reusable alternatives, which means glass jars for food, an old pillowcase for bread, and buying secondhand.  Everything they buy is from a thrift store or from E-Bay for super specific purchase you can’t easily find.

After that, they recycle what they cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse. Contrary to what people believe, living a zero-waste lifestyle encourages you to recycle less. Whatever is left is composted, or rot.

Overall,  Bea Johnson finds the best benefit of her lifestyle is the simplicity, which is something I can get behind. Although I understand and support her lifestyle, I know that for some people, it is just not attainable, which is totally fine.

You may never be able to fit a year’s worth of trash in a jar and that’s okay (I know I won’t). Every small step or implementation of one of the R’s is a step in the right direction.

 

 

I advise you to learn more about Bea and Zero Waste Home. It is really interesting. And with that, I leave you with these two pieces from Monday:

“When you live with less you have more time to do what is important to you.”

“It’s a life based on being instead of having.”