An Omemee woman hopes her efforts to clean up the environment from her kayak become a source of inspiration and education for others.
During her regular paddles, Christine Hoogkamer finds and removes trash from Pigeon River near Emily Provincial Park.
She shares photos of her garbage hauls, along with photos of the wildlife she encounters, on an Instagram account where she’s coined herself as the ‘Emily Garbage Shark’.
“I just love being in the country, and I want to preserve that nature as much as I can,” Hoogkamer explains.
Hoogkamer moved to a home near Emily Provincial Park about four years ago. When she began taking leisurely paddles on Pigeon River adjacent to the park, she was dismayed to find garbage in the water.
“I love being on the water,” she says. “I would go out there to cruise and chill and look for turtles. I would do that, and I just kept finding garbage and picking it up, because how could you not.”
As she continued collecting massive hauls of garbage, Hoogkamer felt the urge to share what she was finding with the public — so she created an Instagram account.
“I was like, ‘People need to see this,'” Hoogkamer recalls. “It’s important for people coming from out of town to see too. Say they’re on Instagram and looking for #explorekawarthalakes or #exploreontario — that’s where I wanted it to reach them. I didn’t know how else to reach a broad audience.”
Hoogkamer first started the Instagram account in 2019 and still updates it regularly. With the account, she hopes to spread awareness about how garbage can so quickly end up in the water and what impact this could have on wildlife.
“I think awareness is the number one thing,” Hoogkamer says. “Sometimes it takes people seeing or hearing a story like this, and something clicks in people’s brains, and they’re like, ‘Maybe I should re-think the things that I bring with me when I go fishing.'”
Hoogkamer hopes her garbage photos garner a reaction of shock and disgust in those who see them — perhaps the necessary emotions to prompt meaningful change.
Whether the photos prompt people to make sure their own garbage does not end up in the water, or even to begin picking up litter themselves, any behaviour change is mission accomplished for Hoogkamer.
Since her Emily Garbage Shark Instagram account is meant to be educational, Hoogkamer recently used it to share a photo showing how long it takes for different types of garbage to break down in the environment.
“I know a lot of that stuff would never break down in my lifetime,” says Hoogkamer. “My message is to be more conscious of our impact on land and preserve it for future generations. I would hate for my kids to be doing the same thing as me and for it to keep getting worse if nothing changes.”
Photos of her kayak loaded with trash are not all that Hoogkamer shares on her Instagram. She also share photos of the wildlife she encounters during her paddles, including birds, frogs, turtles, beavers, and more.
“Often I’ll just be cruising along, and then sometimes something will feel like it’s erupting underneath me — like a snapping turtle or a massive fish,” says Hoogkamer.
The wildlife she spots motivate her to keep going with Emily Garbage Shark, Hoogkamer says, adding she shares pictures of these sightings to show her followers what the litter is harming.
“Especially the turtles,” she says. “I once saw one that was just the size of my palm. You think, ‘What is going to happen if this little guy gets caught in some fishing line?’. Fishing line is one of the main problems in Pigeon Lake.”
Hoogkamer’s efforts to keep the water free of garbage are their own reward. She not only helps protect the area’s wildlife by removing trash, but keeps the landscape and waterway pristine for her paddles and wildlife photos.
But it recently seemed like nature was also rewarding Hoogkamer more directly, when she found a $20 bill during one of her garbage shark paddles.
“I have a lot of good karma coming my way, and that was just the beginning,” Hoogkamer laughs. “That was amazing to find.”
As well as paddling, Hoogkamer also enjoys camping along with her partner Gregory. Both adhere to the “leave no trace” principle, and Hoogkamer is asking others to do the same when enjoying outdoor recreational activities such as fishing, camping, boating, and more.
“Try to keep Kawartha Lakes beautiful or just stay home if you can’t be respectful of the water that you are enjoying,” Hoogkamer urges. “Think twice before you discard something. Be respectful of the land we live on and the waters we enjoy in the summertime.”
Hoogkamer also hopes to inspire others to start cleaning up garbage as well, whether that means picking up litter when you come across it or heading out on your own garbage clean-up hunts.
“If you see something and you’re walking along, just pick it up,” says Hoogkamer. “Roadways are getting worse up here, and the fishing spots on either side of the Emily Park bridge are absolutely brutal on land.”
“I just cover the water, and it would be amazing if someone would come to look at the land out here,” she adds.
To support and follow along with Christine as the Emily Garbage Shark, you can follow her on Instagram @emily_garbage_shark.