Meet the finalists for the 2021 Nature Inspiration Awards.
Supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Victoria, British Columbia
18 years old
Project: The Ocean's Protection and Plastic Reduction Group
Margaret co-founded the Ocean's Protection and Plastic Reduction Group at Mount Douglas Secondary School to inform youth about the dangers of plastics to ocean health. The group conducted waste-accumulation surveys, organized shore clean-ups and waste-alternative workshops, and led online webinars with local businesses on reducing plastic consumption. Margaret trained students on how to send data from the surveys to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration. Now graduated from her school, she continues to sit on the council of the school's environmental-leadership group. Margaret has received several awards for her research on the impact of microplastics on microalgae. Recognizing a gap in microplastics research, she designed a procedure and began tests, under the mentorship of two Ph.D. students at the University of Victoria. Her results suggest that certain plastic types may alter the ecology of marine algae by providing a surface for growth. Her findings earned a silver medal at the Canada-Wide Science Fair. Among her numerous awards is the StarFish Medical Award, BC Nature Award, and the Canadian Stockholm Junior Water Prize. She was also the provincial champion for the Sanofi Biogenius Canada Innovation Summit. Through example and mentorship, Margaret encourages youth to pursue projects that benefit nature and to recognize the potency of their young, yet powerful voices.
17 years old
Close to 640 000 tonnes of waste in the ocean come from discarded fishing gear. Jessica's project, KelpNet, is an innovative fish net made of a versatile bioplastic that uses cultured microalgae and polymers. The algae plastic biodegrades within nine months into nutrients that can feed marine animals. By contrast, conventional nylon fish net takes 600 years to degrade and leaves harmful microplastics in the process. Jessica's net features rigid hexagonal structures, which allow non-targeted, young fish to leave with ease, thus preserving species. The addition of green UV lights has shown to be effective in deterring turtles and porpoises, but attract fish like salmon or trout. Jessica founded her own organization, Next Generation Nations Toronto, to help youth gain a network and support to spearhead their own environmental projects. Jessica directed 40 young individuals across the Greater Toronto area, including a team of students working on a solution and an app to deal with food waste from grocery stores. Jessica has also hosted webinars with environmental leaders.
16 years old
Project: Clean Water for All
Growing up on Lake Huron, one of the largest freshwater bodies in the world, Autumn became concerned about clean water in her community at an early age. By age eight, she was learning about water issues in her community, the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory First Nation reserve on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. At age 13, she raised her concerns directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. This event was a milestone on her journey for clean-water advocacy. In 2018 and 2019, she was designated the Chief Water Protector for the Anishnaabek Nation, which represents 40 First Nations in Ontario, and took her message to the international stage, speaking at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York City, U.S.A. For her efforts, Autumn has received numerous recognitions and awards. Among them are medals for volunteerism from the Governor General and the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, and a Water Warrior Award from the 2019 Water Docs Film Festival. She was named to the Union of Concerned Scientists list of 2019 Science Defenders and was featured in a short documentary film The Water Walker. Autumn's clean-water messages have reached politicians, media and classrooms and have attracted global attention—inspiring action to ensure clean water for all.
16 years old
Project: From Landfills to Ocean Clean-Up
From a young age, Sarah Syed's love for science and ecology grew the more immersed she became in those fields. Her concern about two major environmental issues—the huge amount of textiles (polymer waste) going to landfills (garbage dumps) and oil spills in the oceans—led to her research on polymers as a solution. She began studying whether synthetic and natural polymers, with their oil-absorbing properties, can be as effective in cleaning up oil spills as current bioremediation. She presented her findings at the Toronto Science Fair, earning a gold medal. In addition, Sarah has won the UTSC award for Best Project in Chemistry and Physics for the Environment. Sarah founded her school's first environmental club and volunteers with organizations such as Green Neighbours Network of Toronto and Green Schools Green Future. She initiated a campaign to raise funds to build a green school with an aquaponic system and green technology. She also worked on a three-month environmentally focused campaign with Care for Animals. Sarah is the Co-president of her student council, leading the organization of the annual school clean up and the Earth Day assembly, and is involved in the Feed Scarborough Initiative, which advocates on food insecurity. Her many achievements and tireless work earned her a leadership award from her school.
Supported by BDO Canada LLP.
Victoria, British Columbia
Project: Takaya's Legacy Project
Conservation photographer and filmmaker Cheryl Alexander brought the moving story of a remarkable and resourceful wolf that survived for years alone on a British Columbia island. Her captivating film Takaya: Lone Wolf (six years in the making) won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Science or Nature Documentary and was nominated for some international awards. In October 2020, Cheryl founded the Takaya Lone Wolf International Arts Festival that has inspired more than 200 artists from more than 20 countries. Tragically, Takaya was killed by a hunter in March 2020. Since then, Cheryl has advocated against the recreational killing of wolves. She established Takaya's Legacy Project, which promotes wolf conservation in British Columbia through public education and political advocacy. She has also brought Takaya's story to life through her books, including two for children. Cheryl's movement has brought together a concerned network of individuals, organizations, businesses and political leaders. Takaya's story lives on through educational exhibitions at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, as well as The Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Project: Inclusivity in birdwatching: The Young Birders Program
Melissa Hafting began the Young Birders Program in 2014 to encourage youth of all races, sexual orientations and genders to take part in birding—an activity traditionally considered to be dominated by older, white men. She's a founder of the B.C. Field Ornithologists' Young Birders Program and mentors youth in birding. In her own time, she maintains the Rare Bird Alert site for British Columbia, provides expert opinion for eBird for five of the province's birding areas, leads tours and writes a blog (daretobird.blogspot.com). Her connection with Birds Canada, as well as Kaleidoscope Canada—a space for the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) community who recreate and work in the Canadian outdoors—has led to Birds Canada offering free memberships to members of BIPOC, LGBTQ++ persons, and persons with disabilities. Melissa is a frequent speaker at international events, including Black Birders Week, and she is a sought-after source for news stories on inclusive birding. She continues to build a community of next generation leaders, using channels such as Instagram to share information about species and incorporate her social-justice work.
Project: Grand parc de l'écoterritoire de la Falaise
In 2015, librarian Lisa Mintz became concerned about clearcutting of the St. Jacques escarpment in Montréal. Without any environmental experience, she created Sauvons la Falaise with area residents. Her success in mobilizing fellow environmentalists and community groups led to the 2020 announcement by Montréal's mayor of a 60 hectare urban park. Sauvons la Falaise started Lisa on the successful path of environmental activism. She is now affiliated with six environmental organizations, either as a founder or Chair, including Sauvons-l'anse-à-l'orme, Technoparc oiseaux, and Transparence. An avid birder, she has worked to protect the threatened habitat in Montréal of a small breed of heron, the Least Bittern, and initiated a court case in 2016 that led to a small federal preserve being created around its nesting site. She is active in the Green Coalition, an umbrella organization for more than 80 environmental groups in Quebec, and is now the Executive Director of UrbaNature, a group committed to nature education. Through talks she gives on the theme of Ten Steps to Change the World, Lisa inspires individuals to help improve the environment in which they live.
Sonya Richmond, Ph.D.
Sechelt, British Columbia
Project: Come Walk with Us
A nature advocate, researcher and analyst, Sonya Richmond gave up her career and sold her house to fund an epic journey across Canada. Her Come Walk with Us expedition on the Trans-Canada Trail seeks to inspire people of all ages, cultures, orientations, and identities, especially youth, to reconnect with nature. Sonya strives to inspire youth to become lifelong environmental stewards, engaged community leaders and strong advocates for nature. By visiting 15 000 communities across Canada, her expedition is an opportunity to educate on environmental issues such as climate change and biodiversity protections, and to foster meaningful dialogue about nature-based solutions. Sonya's trek has captured local, national and international media attention and is supported by organizations such as Bird Studies Canada, the Boreal Legacy Project, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the James L. Baillie Memorial Fund. Her story has been shared through podcasts, articles, interviews, social media and virtual presentations.
Supported by Ontario Power Generation.
Canadian Whale Institute
Welshpool, New Brunswick
Project: Whale disentanglement
The Canadian Whale Institute is focused on the long-term survival of whales, particularly the endangered North Atlantic right whale. It conducts scientific research and also responds to whales in distress, rescuing them from entanglement in fishing gear. As part of this work, the institute has developed and continues to develop new tools and techniques, in close cooperation with other disentanglement efforts around the world. The Institute's Campobello Rescue Team shares its expertise and trains other teams across New Brunswick and Quebec in the techniques of whale disentanglement. The whale institute also collaborates with marine industries to mitigate the effects of their activities on marine mammals—one outcome is keeping shipping out of habitat areas and slowing it down in others. Educational programs led by the institute encourage others to get involved in whale protection; the Canadian Whale Institute has also coordinated public awareness campaigns to advise boaters of what to do when they spot a whale in distress.
Project: Tracking butterflies for conservation and education
Launched in 2012 by Canadian butterfly experts, eButterfly is an international online project dedicated to butterfly biodiversity, conservation and education. Its database now includes more than 430 000 records about 1100 species in North America, Central America and the Caribbean. eButterfly has advanced the power of citizen-science to contribute information for biodiversity research, such as how butterfly distributions are being affected by climate change. The platform is the brainchild of former graduate student Max Larrivée (now Director of the Insectarium in Montréal, which runs eButterfly). He developed his idea when he joined the Canadian Facility for Econinformatics Research at the University of Ottawa. eButterfly has expanded by working with partners such as the Vermont Butterfly Survey and Espace pour la vie in Montréal, which includes the Insectarium. Now, more than 2900 volunteers contribute butterfly data. The eButterfly team shares its expertise with other community-science projects across Canada, and has helped eTick, Bumblebee Watch, Mission Monarch, and Abeille citoyenne start their own platforms. Through webinars, social media and its website, eButterfly supports butterfly identification and public outreach about the importance of these charismatic insects as indicators of biodiversity.
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
Project: Sea-ice monitoring
SmartICE is a source of inspiration for transformational change in Arctic communities. This community-based organization offers climate adaptation tools designed to incorporate sea-ice monitoring with Indigenous knowledge, empowering communities with the tools, training and support they need to tackle changing ice conditions. Co-created with the Nunatsiavut Government, SmartICE is the first in the world to integrate Inuit traditional knowledge of ice safety and travel, with advanced data acquisition and remote monitoring technology. The co-designed training curriculum will mean that Inuit can combine their traditional knowledge and observations with satellite-image interpretation to make ice-travel safety maps. By 2023, SmartICE anticipates that it will expand to 30 communities across Inuit Nunangat, as well as in at least six First Nations communities that rely on freshwater ice travel in Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Its innovative tools include a new mobile sensor, SmartQAMUTIK, that measures the occurrence and thickness of slush, ice and snow. In recognition of its work, SmartICE earned a United Nations Climate Solutions Award in 2017 and a Governor General's Innovation Award in 2019.
Project: Natural Edge Program
Since 2002, Watersheds Canada has worked to restore and conserve shorelines in collaboration with landowners, communities and other organisations. As a small environmental not-for-profit with a grassroots approach, Watersheds Canada extends its impact by sharing scientific expertise, specialized training, and logistical support. Among its innovative successes is the Natural Edge Program, the only one of its kind in Canada. It provides practical solutions, centred on a landscape-design app that guides landowners in restoring their deteriorating shorelines in order to improve water quality over the long term. Using photos and information provided by the owner, the app provides a nature-based restoration design, including links to a native-plant database that identifies the plants that are best suited for each site and ecosystem. Since 2013, the Natural Edge Program has coordinated the planting of more than 75 000 native plants in partnership with 15 organizations on 90 waterbodies.
Supported by Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR).
Canadian Wildlife Federation
Project: Wild Outside
Wild Outside is a national program for youth aged 15 to 18, to develop their leadership skills and inspire them to make a difference in wild outdoor spaces. The program, created by the Canadian Wildlife Federation, inspires a passion for conservation work, community service, awareness of the natural environment and a deeper appreciation for wildlife as participants get outdoors and explore natural areas in and around their cities. Wild Outside benefits from relationships with hundreds of community partners across the country, as well as more than 80 registered volunteers who supervise and lead activities at in-person events. Activities can include hiking, canoeing, snowshoeing, dogsledding, building bat boxes, planting pollinator gardens, removing invasive species, cleaning up litter and more. The program supports community partners and local businesses, which has been especially impactful during the pandemic. In March 2021, Wild Outside held its first annual conference—virtually—with panels and presentations, as well as 70 guest speakers. Wild Outside has even inspired some participants to start their own small businesses and has helped a few win awards for their service to the community.
Niagara Parks Commission
Niagara Falls, Ontario
Project: Floral art
The Niagara Parks Commission protects the natural and cultural heritage along the 56 km stretch of the Niagara River in southeastern Ontario. Included in its operations are tourist attractions, visitor amenities and natural areas in one of Canada's unique ecological regions. A prime draw for many visitors, including artists, are the numerous floral displays and related horticultural experiences created under the direction of the Niagara Parks Horticultural Team. These include the waterfall gardens, seasonal programs and events such as the popular hydrangea show that is hosted at the floral showhouse, and the eye-catching floral clock, which is created with up to 16 000 carpet-bedding plants that are changed twice each year. The main floral attraction of the region is the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens, which opened in 1936 and continues to provide unique practical training to horticulture students. Educational pamphlets are available to explain the botanical diversity along the parkway—which attracts tourists from around the world who explore the region on foot, by bike, or by car.
Royal Botanical Gardens
Project: Ecosystem stewardship and conservation
The natural lands at Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) are among the richest in all of Canada for plant species diversity, and a wide range of wildlife call them home too. Since its founding, RBG has focused not only on public engagement about nature, but also on conservation of the land it stewards. The Royal Botanical Gardens cover 1100 hectares, which are dominated by 900 hectares of nature sanctuaries that envelop the western end of Lake Ontario. These lands form a park within the Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO), and is at the heart of the Cootes to Escarpment Ecopark System. With more than 750 native plant species, 277 types of migratory birds, 37 mammal species, 14 reptile species, 9 amphibian species and 68 species of Lake Ontario fish, the area is an important contributor to ecosystems that span international borders.
RBG's conservation efforts occur in forest, wetland and prairie habitats and range from species-at-risk inventories to invasive species management. In addition to its display gardens and horticultural conservation work, Royal Botanical Gardens works hard to preserve and restore its nature sanctuaries. This includes Project Paradise—one of the largest freshwater restoration projects of its kind in North America—that works to restore habitats of the Cootes Paradise and Grindstone Creek marshes.
Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning
Project: From invasive to inclusive: creating community while restoring biodiversity
A garden informed by Indigenous teachings and a native-plant garden, both reclaimed from land previously overrun by buckthorn (an invasive species in Ontario) are focal points for Sheridan College's stewardship to restore biodiversity and reconnect the community with the natural environment. Sheridan's Office for Sustainability partnered with its Centre for Indigenous Learning and Support, a landscaping consultant and community organizations to create the Medicine Wheel Garden. It opened in 2017, and features native pollinator plants, as well as three Indigenous sacred plants: sweetgrass, sage and white cedar. A second plot of buckthorn was removed by Kyanase, an Indigenous enterprise supported by a non-profit affiliated with the Six Nations of Grand River. Around 900 community members, Sheridan staff and faculty then planted 300 pots of native wildflowers and mixed grasses to create a thriving garden that attracts pollinators and to provide wildlife habitats. Both gardens are used for educational programs and workshops that are geared to students and the community at large. In 2018, Sheridan was recognized by TD Friends of the Environment Foundation for its wildflower and pollinator program. Sheridan has also partnered with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Carolinian Canada to take part in the In the Zone Garden Program that encourages the planting of native plants.
Supported by NASCO Building Cleaning Inc.
Don't Mess with the Don
Project: Don't Mess with the Don
Don't Mess with the Don is a non-profit group that began in 2018 to clean up garbage dumped in Toronto's Don Valley ravine. This beautiful area is a key recreational corridor that connects city dwellers to nature. Since 2018, Don't' Mess with the Don has engaged hundreds of volunteers who have removed more than 68 000 kg of garbage from the area, often dealing with mud and difficult terrain to collect tires, gasoline cans, mattresses and assorted refuse. The volunteers also remove invasive weeds, such as dog-strangling vine, and plant native species, such as milkweed and cup flower, to help restore the habitat for butterflies. Outreach to community members, business owners and residential property managers had led to solutions for reducing the amount of garbage going into the valley. One strategy included stringing fine mesh over existing chain-link fencing at the back of rental properties. Don't Mess with the Don consulted with the City of Toronto on the Toronto Ravine Strategy program, which will allow for enhanced litter pick-up and address incidents of illegal dumping. The group helps other Toronto communities such as Humber River Pals with clean-ups and inspiring many individuals to become stewards of the land.
Kingfisher Interpretive Centre Society
Enderby, British Columbia
Project: Salmon conservation through education
For four decades, the Kingfisher Interpretive Centre Society has been a leader in salmon conservation. The society was founded in response to the near extinction of salmon stocks in the Shuswap River. Today, it has grown from a small community-run salmon hatchery into an ecosystem-stewardship learning centre that provides environmental education at its 10-acre site, including up-close observation of returning salmon. Since 1981, the centre has educated over 40 000 local school children and the site welcomes around 8000 visitors each year. It serves as a community hub for salmon education and hosts professional development days for schoolteachers, presents environmental conferences, organizes public events, and even provides salmon eggs for classroom incubators. Its watershed-model learning tool has been replicated at other international locations and educational institutions. Traditional ecological knowledge is also offered to the participants, offering insight into local Indigenous culture. The centre works with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and is supported by local, regional and First Nations groups, as well as a contingent of dedicated volunteers.
Victoria Compost and Conservation Education Society
Victoria, British Columbia
Project: Healing City Soils
The Compost Education Centre (CEC) promotes composting, soil stewardship, local food production and ecological conservation in Victoria. Through a partnership with Royal Roads University, the centre's Healing City Soils program engaged environmental-science students to analyze the health of the soils in the Victoria area. From 2016 to 2019, the CEC was able to offer more than 500 free soil tests to residents. The goal is to create a virtual soil map of the district, highlighting areas where heavy metals need to be addressed before food is grown. Because of COVID restrictions in 2020, the students shifted to piloting a remediation program, now running in three locations, that uses native and non-native plants, compost and fungi to address low-to-moderate levels of heavy-metal contamination. The CEC has been recognized with an Educational Leadership award at the 2019 EcoStar Awards. In 2020, the CEC connected with 520 000 people in person, through email, and over the phone through a hotline about composting, food growing and climate resiliency practices. More than 16 600 adults have participated in one of the centre's events or workshops, and over 7000 children, youth and educators have been reached through the centre's school programs.
Wild about Saskatoon
Project: NatureCity Festival / Experience
Wild about Saskatoon formed in 2012 to promote the value of Saskatoon's wild, natural and biodiverse places. It has collaborated with approximately 70 environmental and Indigenous organizations, from the Nature Conservancy Canada to Wanuskewin Heritage Park to the Indigenous Poetry Society. From 2013 to 2019, its NatureCity Festival, with up to 100 events, featured programs for families, individuals and schools that promoted learning from/with the land and from/with Indigenous Elders. COVID-19 meant the cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 festivals; however, a different online program, which ran throughout the year, invited the public to a NatureCity Adventure. Each features a different green space, from backyards to a sacred site, with a range of activities such as observing birds to learning how to cook with wild plants. Wild about Saskatoon has contributed to the creation of a regional land-use plan that includes green corridors. It has brought Saskatoon into an international monitoring project, the Urban Wildlife Information Network, which provides a knowledge base for living well with other species. The group's newest initiative, inspired by the Suzuki Foundation's Butterfly Pathway, allows people who garden with native plants to certify their yards as pollinator habitats.
Supported by The Mosaic Company.
J.D. Irving, Limited
Saint John, New Brunswick
Project: Forest sustainability and conservation
As an international forestry company and family-run business founded in New Brunswick close to 140 years ago, J.D. Irving, Limited has recognized the importance of leadership in sustainable forest management. Practices in forestry-related research and development are coupled with the company's commitment to supporting conservation areas for people to connect with nature. Since 1957, Irving has planted over one billion trees, a national record in Canada, and its 80-year management plan incorporates habitat, conservation, recreation and carbon stocks. Since the early 1990s, the company has invested $30 million in research and leads a voluntary conservation program that oversees 1700 unique sites across New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Maine that encompass various features such as old forests, nesting sites, rare plants, and even important archaeological areas. Irving also manages two significant green spaces that are freely accessible to visitors: the Irving Nature Park in Saint John, New Brunswick, is a 600-acre wooded park that welcomes 300 000 visitors a year and offers programmed events, trails, gravel roads, beaches and playgrounds, while La dune de Bouctouche in New Brunswick preserves one of the few remaining great sand dunes on the northeastern coastline of North America.
Project: Innovative technologies for battery recycling
Li-Cycle is the largest lithium-ion battery recycler in North America. This matters to anyone that uses a cell phone! The innovative company has developed a unique process that allows for a recovery rate of up to 95% of all critical materials found in the batteries—a critical advance given that Li-ion batteries are in high demand for personal electronics and even electric vehicles. The company has cracked the code for the re-use of recovered, valuable materials—used for making new batteries—which ensures this is a truly circular and sustainable process. It produces no wastewater and no direct emissions, and it is the most energy-efficient process that is commercially available. Residual materials such as steel and plastics are sent for further processing to ensure that all materials generated are being returned to the economy, thus closing the loop. The company extends its mission for sustainability as a founding member of the Zero Emissions Transportation Association, the first industry-backed coalition advocating for complete adoption of eclectic vehicles by 2030. Li-Cycle Corp. has been recognized for its innovations with awards, including a listing as a 2021 Global Cleantech 100 Company and a 2021 Big Innovation Award presented by Business Intelligence Group.
Vancouver, British Columbia.
Project: Sustainable clothing linked to the planting of trees
Founded in 2012, tentree sells sustainable outdoor-lifestyle products to customers across the globe, while planting 10 trees for every product sold. By building restoration (planting trees) into its business model, this successful Canadian clothing retailer has taken a novel approach to sustainability. The business has now planted more than 60 million trees across the globe, thereby providing jobs, food security and ecosystem restoration. Its "buy one, plant x trees" model has been adopted by hundreds of businesses over the last decade. As of 2020, tentree has become carbon neutral—in addition to planting trees, it supports verified carbon projects to offset its emissions. The company's outerware is created using the most sustainable materials possible, including Tencel, organic cotton, recycled polyester and hemp. These initiatives have resulted in a dramatically smaller carbon footprint, as well significantly less water usage. tentree has also shown innovation through the creation of Veritree—the world's first blockchain-based auditing tool for global reforestation projects. The platform is part of a coalition to bring transparency to tree planting with the World Resource Institute, Trillion Tree Pledge, and other restoration programs. tentree is certified by the Better Business Bureau, making it a recognized ecological enterprise at the global scale.
Whistler, British Columbia
Project: Commitment to Zero Program
Whistler Blackcomb is committed to being a sustainability leader in the ski industry and in the tourism industry as part of Vail Resorts. The resort's Commitment to Zero policy sets its goal to become, by 2030, the world's first large-scale tourism operator to achieve a net zero operating footprint—zero net emissions, zero waste to garbage dumps, and zero net operating impact on forests and habitat. As an example, Whistler Blackcomb engaged stakeholders to develop a microhydro project that generates around 32 gigawatt hours of electricity annually for the community around Whistler, equivalent to the resort's annual energy consumption. Staff are equipped with knowledge of sustainable practices, and more than 100 community projects have been supported by the resort's foundation envirofund. Whistler Blackcomb's "green team" implements sustainability programs such as a waste-sorting system for its restaurants, which has achieved an 89% diversion from garbage dumps. This innovative model has been shared as a best practice with other Vail resorts. Whistler Blackcomb has also established land-use practices to ensure the ecological heath of watersheds and forest habitats—development in environmentally sensitive parts of the ski area is modified to sustain natural-resource features. This leaves a considerable land base for ecotourism through interpretive sites, summer programs for youth and ecology tours.