'We've never seen litter like this': Lethbridge mermaid cleaning up the coulees

Spotting a mermaid swimming in the Old Man River is far from an everyday occurrence and it undoubtedly drums up a conversation. For Gray Young, that's the goal.

She spent a few hours on Saturday in full mermaid garb basking in the sun chatting with locals, raising awareness on the dangers of littering, and motivating people to take action by scanning the coulees for garbage.

"Knowing that I can come out and inspire the children that inspire their parent, it just builds a world of awesomeness," Young said.

"We've never seen litter like this before in the coulees to be very honest. Let alone, probably anywhere else. So it's incredibly important to volunteer time this year."

Young, also known by her mermaid name Zenevieva, wasn't the only one dressed up to raise awareness, her daughter Siya wore an anime style costume which helped to stand out and draw attention to their cause.

The Helen Schuler Nature Centre hosts 'Shoreline Cleanups' on the first Saturday of each month.

With COVID-19 restrictions now all but lifted, the effort is kicking things into high gear, making up for lost time.

"Last year with COVID, things were scaled back quite a bit and we weren't able to hold a lot of these conservation projects," said Taylor Hecker, program leader at the Helen Schuler Nature Centre.

"A lot of times, the stuff that people are picking up, they don't realize the impact of it. Even tiny things like cigarette butts and little bits of plastic. Those things can accumulate in the wildlife and in the rivers."

On top of playing catch-up, there seems to be more trash blowing around the coulees compared to previous years.

Cleanup volunteers are sent out with data collection sheets so that the Helen Schuler Nature Centre can record the data to better understand the littering situation in the area.

There's isn't enough information yet to make an accurate information, but volunteers said preliminary findings suggest things like single-use food packaging and masks are more abundant.

"There's a lot of garbage around here and we don't want the animals to start eating it and getting really sick," said volunteer Siya Young.

The most recent data compiled by the nature centre is from 2019 when 342 participants took part in the Shoreline Cleanup effort.

In total, 7,727 pieces of trash were collected including five tires, a mattress and multiple fishing nets.

A whopping 2,890 cigarette butts were also collected in 2019.

The hope is for that number of participants to increase this summer to tackle the influx in garbage that’s been accumulating in the coulees.