This month’s #LocalHero is Nancy Pearson, also known as @abagawalk on Instagram. Aside from keeping the beaches of St George’s, Newfoundland clean through her nonprofit, she is also an ambassador for the Eyesea app, which tracks ocean pollution worldwide.
We asked her a series of questions to learn more about both of these projects, and what future endeavors she has planned.
1) Tell us a bit about yourself and what motivated you to start cleaning up Newfoundland beaches.
I care about our world and want to do my part to save it for future generations. I love being outdoors. Hiking on our beautiful trails, walking/running on our local beach, snowshoeing in the winter is what I love doing the most and I often have our dog, Pixel, in tow. When we returned to my homeland almost seven years ago, I went to our local beach to do my runs. But, I was shock with what I saw there. It definitely wasn’t my memory of our local beach. It wasn’t relaxing seeing the state of the beach from ocean litter. So, my runs became plogs and then plogs turned more into walks. It then became an addiction. I’m on the beach almost every day and I just can’t stop myself from picking up litter.
2) How did your Instagram @abagawalk get started?
Abagawalk came to me during the pandemic as I knew I wouldn’t be able to run my annual beach cleanup event. So, I said, maybe I can start a movement and have people pick up litter wherever they hike, walk or run. During the pandemic I felt was the perfect time to inspire people. It definitely is a good distraction! I also started to make gifts for giveaways to try and add some fun during these trying times. I started sewing tartan masks, scrunchies and now headbands.
3) Can you tell us why beach cleanups are so important?
For me, I do not want to see what has washed in go back into the ocean with the next high tide. I try and pick up pieces before they breakdown to microplastics. Also, I want to raise awareness that we have a huge global problem. Much bigger than many realize. It isn’t another country’s problem. It is the entire world’s problem. We must come together to clean up this mess we have created. Time is of the essence. But, it does make me anxious at times.
4) How did you get involved with the Eyesea app? How is it making a difference?
The founder of Eyesea found me on my Instagram account back early fall of 2020. I never heard of a litter-related app so I thought, this will be neat to try out. I can take pictures and tell people what is happening but without hard data to have in hand when approaching the government, it could be all for not. It also, gives me another purpose when I’m out picking up litter.
5) How can other people use the Eyesea app when they clean up any litter they find?
The Eyesea app was launched this past July and is now available at the App Store for iOS and Google Play Store for Android for anyone to try. If they have any questions, they can ask me or contact Eyesea directly. We are all happy to help.
6) What challenges or obstacles do you face when you go pick up litter?
One challenge is the larger pieces. I have to leave a lot of them for our annual cleanup. I do drag large pieces up from the water’s edge so it won’t end up back into the ocean. I also want to do it all but I can’t. I have learned to keep to one bag (another reason I came up with the name ‘a-bag-a-walk’ to keep myself on track as I used to pick up several large bags of litter each visit. It really started to control my life). I also have no support for disposing of the litter. We have an account for home that we use and we do pay to dispose the beach litter. It adds up. There needs to be more support for anyone picking up litter.
7) What has been your favourite experience so far?
There are two. Starting abagawalk connected me with over a thousand like-minded people. It makes me feel “normal.” I guess I realized what I’m doing is making a difference and there are many people in the world caring to clean up our planet. Being a part of the Eyesea family has also been a wonderful experience and I feel being a part of this group will help me gain more traction. I realize this more now than when I got started. In order to move forward on my mission, I must attach myself to an others like myself that will take my mission to the highest level.
8) What does the future of abagawalk look like? What future initiatives do you have planned?
My dream would that everyone carry a bag with them when out on a walk, run, jog etc. and just pick up any litter they encounter. It doesn’t matter if it is just a couple of pieces. Imagine if everyone in the world picked up litter they encountered wherever they stroll. I have so many ideas spinning in my head but I would love to have more children involved. I do have some youngsters that attend my annual cleanups. Children will be our future leaders and I often feel they understand a lot more of what is happening than many adults give them credit for. So, yes, I would love to inspire more children.
9) Are there any items that you keep coming across every time you remove litter from beaches?
There are common ones that wash in and the ones that day users leave. The most common pieces I see wash in are lobster bands, nylon rope, bait bags, nylon strappings, shotgun shells, lobster tags. Day users leave pop cans/plastic bottles, beer bottles/cans, water bottles, wrappers, beach toys.
10) How can people make a difference in their communities across Canada?
I will repeat myself here but I think we all need to do our part to clean up the mess we have created. I do not understand why some people toss trash out their vehicle windows and leave their trash on beaches, trails, etc. I came up with the name abagawalk in hopes this mission would catch on to everyone. When out, carry a bag no matter what the size and just pick up the litter you see. Yes, it isn’t your trash necessary but it is your planet. I’m a firm believer that if the beach or trail looks clean, it is harder for someone to trash it. I just want people to have more pride in their community. A clean home will make you feel relaxed. I know this to be true as you can’t enjoy running or walking on a beach full of litter!
Thank you so much Nancy for the amazing work you do!
Be sure to follow her on Instagram at @abagawalk.