Awards Given and Torches Passed

Awards Given and Torches Passed

My thoughts as a young woman following Nature Canada’s Pimlott Award Celebration.

“Across the deep blue waters, the shadow of Newfoundland looms closely. Follow the waterfalls to the bottom of the rocky cliffs where waves crash and tidal pools swirl restlessly.

The remains of past lives lie on these shores, hidden only to those who don’t know what to look for. Pieces of boats, glass from the sea, and frayed rope leave clues from adventures before.

Look closely and long, and you might catch the perfectly choreographed acrobatic show of the gannets as they dive for their dinner. And following, dolphins jumping at the edge of the fog along the horizon, or whale tails splashing in blue waves.

The world becomes dark and creates a sky of endless stars. The flickering glow of the lighthouse gleams a streak across the water, reaching out, making sure we are all safe and sound.

Bumpy red dirt roads always lead to the special, secret places of the world.”

Above is a poem I wrote after a trip to Labrador in the summer of 2021. Being on the Labrador coast was the closest to magic I’ve ever experienced. Part of this magical feeling came from the wildlife that we saw. Dolphins, whales, bears, and birds. Of these birds, the gannets were mesmerizing to me. They fly in groups above the ocean and then, when one of them dives, they all begin to dive into the water to catch fish. It’s so cool to watch them in action. A few locals from the area shared some wisdom of whale watching with us: Where there are gannets, there are fish, and where there are fish, whales often follow. The gannets are not only beautifully interesting in their flight and behaviour, but they are also indicators of fish and whales, indicators of how the ecosystem is doing.

In my ecology studies in university, we learn this exact concept, that birds are indicator species and thus are extremely important to study and monitor. Birds are sensitive to disturbance, pollution, and habitat change. If environmental changes are happening in an area, the birds will respond, and if we pay attention to them, we can more effectively identify the changes early on.

As I attended Nature Canada’s Pimlott Award Celebration, and watched the series of speakers and videos, this concept of birds as indicator species was mentioned several times. “Canaries in a coal mine” is the classic example. What kills birds will kill us. But, of course, bird conservation is not only about saving our own skin. It is also about protecting birds that completely enrich our lives, inspire us, and embody the beauty of nature.

“The sound of songbirds isn’t only beautiful. It is a reminder to us we can’t live without other life. It is also the sound of hope.” – Margaret Atwood

Watching the award ceremony was heart-warming. The thoughts of so many inspiring environmental leaders were shared, particularly, female environmental leaders, whom I have always looked up to: Elizabeth May, Diane Griffin, and of course, Margaret Atwood. To see and hear them speak about our relationship with birds, nature, and literature was like fuel to me. As a young woman in my early 20s, I am just beginning my environmental career, but it is a constant battle to stay positive, motivated, and inspired.

Many of these environmental leaders from the generations before me, like Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson, have given my generation the tools and empowerment to do environmental work effectively, confidently, and with love

Sometimes I feel despair at the state of the world and cynically think that there is no way to protect nature when the world is so full of greed. Sometimes I have bad eco-anxiety days and have to cope and escape reality by reading fantasy books about different worlds because our world is too heavy to be present in. Sometimes I feel burnt out, like I’ve been screaming for so long and no one around me has even turned their head. But sometimes, and especially after the Pimlott Award Celebration, I feel stronger. Many of these environmental leaders from the generations before me, like Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson, have given my generation the tools and empowerment to do environmental work effectively, confidently, and with love. All I have to do is look to their life’s work to find hope and carry on. Coming out of this event had me feeling such gratitude to have been able to exist at the same time as these leaders, artists, and wonderful people who already are and will be remembered in history. I feel so ready to begin my environmental career, follow my passion, and continue the work that they started.

Siobhan Mullally (she/her) has an Honours B.E.S. from the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability (SERS) at the University of Waterloo with a minor in English Language and Literature and two diplomas in Environmental Assessment and Ecosystem Restoration and Rehabilitation. For her senior thesis, she travelled to Labrador to study climate change impacts on tundra ecosystems in the Canadian Subarctic. As a budding ecologist, researcher, and writer, she is interested in exploring the intersections between ecology and communication to inspire climate change and help others develop a deeper appreciation for nature. In her free time, she enjoys spending time in nature and getting lost in her favourite novels.