Shawn Bath’s desire to clean the oceans started in a previous life.
A longtime commercial diver, the Twillingate native was involved with the sea urchin fishery for over two decades.
When he was diving below for his job, Bath would see litter on the seabed, and there were plenty of times he was finding those urchins attached to old tires and other pieces of trash discarded in the bay.
“Every harbour we dive in here in Newfoundland is the same thing,” said Bath. “There’s trash all over the bottom.”
Over a decade ago, he flew to Ottawa and met with officials about what he saw in the oceans. Bath was looking for help, but nothing ever came of it.
His cries fell on deaf ears and a decade after that meeting, Bath felt he had wasted enough time waiting for help.
So, he decided to take it upon himself.
“I said if I don’t soon do it, I’ll never get to do it,” he said. “I said, ‘I’ll start on my own and these guys will follow.’”
Now at 48 — and 12 years removed from that meeting in Ottawa — Bath is being recognized for the work he has done hauling all sorts of trash out of harbours around his home province.
On Sept. 18, the Canadian Wildlife Federation presented Bath with the Stan Hodgkiss Outdoorsperson of the Year Award for the work he’s done for the last two years with his Clean Harbours Initiative.
Given out annually since 1975, the award is presented to a Canadian who has shown a commitment to conservation and is named after the wildlife federation’s founding president.
“That is a big deal,” Bath said of the award. “It is across Canada. It is pretty overwhelming.”
Several months ago, he received an email telling him that he had been nominated for the award.
It wasn’t something he was expecting, nor was it something he was expecting to win. There was a short period when he didn’t think the email he received was even real.
Bath had replied to the original email, but hadn’t received a reply.
It must’ve been a prank email that entered his inbox, he thought. He had received those before and that must be it.
Then, shortly after he had given up hope, Bath found another email telling him he was being awarded the Stan Hodgkiss Award.
“It is pretty emotional,” he said. “I was sat at the computer and I’m in tears.”
Witless Bay’s Trevor Croft has seen the work Bath does firsthand. When Croft saw the work Bath was doing, it inspired him to take on a couple of cleanup projects of his own.
Croft had plans to clean up a pond in Witless Bay, and Bath was instrumental in making that happen.
“I wouldn’t have been able to take on my own project without Shawn’s help,” he said.
Hearing of Bath’s national recognition, Croft thought t was well deserved. He credited Bath for having the fortitude to take on such a project.
“It takes a special kind of person to take the initiative and even start something like this, let alone spearhead the whole project,” he said.
In two years, Bath has been below the waves retrieving trash from almost 40 harbours, and he and some other volunteers have pulled up over 7,200 kilograms of garbage, 1,200 tires and 17 ghost nets, amongst other items.
On one dive, he found some antique bottles, and, on others, he’s hauled old computers out of the water.
Bath even once found a statue of Buddha.
“The sheer volume of the trash (at the bottom) has surprised me the most,” he said. “I’ve found some unique things.”
To help with his cause, Bath has received donations that have kept him going. There have been monetary donations from individuals, municipalities and community groups.
Likewise, there have been donations of equipment, such as rope, to help with the job.
In February, the family of the late Lindsay Petten, a diver and well-known fisherman from Port de Grave, donated a boat and diving gear to Bath’s cause.
“It is only a matter of time before we get the people behind us to put us in a financial position to do this on a much larger scale,” said Bath.
Above the waves, littering in towns across the province has been a problem for years. Further to that, illegal dumping in trails and down old woods roads is an annual occurrence.
Bath sees the same things while he is in the water. He sees the same attitudes as well.
While cleaning up harbours is at the heart of his initiative, it would also be fair to say Bath is trying to change people’s minds.
“My hope is that we’re going to make such a big deal about this in Newfoundland … and hopefully, we’re going to get people to not throw anything in the ocean anymore,” he said.
Nicholas Mercer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Central Voice