MAEP student and graduate tackle plastic pollution in Gros Morne

A current graduate student and an alumna of the master of arts in environmental policy at Grenfell Campus recently presented a Facebook Live talk  titled “Tackling plastic pollution in Gros Morne National Park.” 

The presenters were graduate student Jackie-Ray Bauman and alumna Rebecca Brushett, executive director of the Atlantic Healthy Oceans Initiative (AHOI). Ms. Brushett, who holds a B.Sc. in marine biology (Dalhousie), a B.Ed. in secondary education (MUN) along with an MA in environmental policy (MUN), says created AHOI in 2019 because she felt there was a gap that not only promotes and builds prosperous coastal communities but also respects and looks after the health of our coastal and marine ecosystems surrounding the Gros Morne region. She also works remotely for the Ecology Action Centre as their sustainable fisheries co-ordinator to help promote healthy commercial fisheries within the Gulf of St. Lawrence and, as their marine planner for Gros Morne, will be working with the communities to create a sustainable marine plan for the region that looks after the people and the long-term health of our oceans together.

The objectives of AHOI are to develop educational programs, to implement conservation products, to uphold environmental protection laws, to conduct research and to work with the public, with the overarching goal to make the Gros Morne Region Plastic Waste Free by 2025.

Caption: Rebecca Brushett (foreground) and her AHOI team after a successful beach clean-up at Back Cove, Cow Head, NL.

“Obviously were looking at plastic pollution, but some other (areas of interest) that we’re interested in and will work on over the coming years are reduction of high impact overfishing, especially for this area,” said Ms. Brushett. “We’ll look at climate change and how it’s affecting the marine biodiversity In the ocean around Gros Morne and western Newfoundland, but also how it’s impacting our coasts, erosion, bigger storms, and how it’s affecting our communities as well.”

She said marine conservation and protection is another topic the organization will investigate, examining, “how we need to look after sensitive marine habitats. And then lastly, keeping an eye on impacts from offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling, especially as it relates to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and how it may impact this national park, the Gros Morne region, and any community up the coast of Western Newfoundland.”

AHOI collaborates with businesses, schools, governments and NGOs, such as the Gros Morne Co-operating Association, Grenfell Campus, Tour Gros Morne, and the Towns of Norris Point, Trout River and Rocky Harbour.

Ms. Bauman, who holds a BA in environmental governance (Guelph), worked with AHOI during a summer internship, during which time she helped develop a proposal to ban single use plastics and reduce local pollution. She said the internship allowed her to do research, collect data, undertake policy creation and reviews and take advantage of network opportunities.

“I was looking to different levels of government… and I was building on some of my networking from my experience as a master student with the environmental policy program,” said Ms. Bauman. “So that was really helpful that I could bring in some of my previous knowledge dealing with policy.”

Part of her work with AHOI involved conducting waste audits of trash found along the shorelines of the Gros Morne area.

One particular clean-up, on Wild Cove Beach, Norris Point, yielded plastic pieces, food takeout packaging and single use plastics, fishing and industrial materials, hygiene-related items and shotgun shells – a total of 31,000 pieces of trash weighing 400 pounds. 81.9% of the trash was due to micro and macro plastics.

This is problematic, said Ms. Bauman, because of “bioaccumulation in the food chain and (the fact that) these tiny plastics continue to break down.” 

Going forward, there are a number of projects AHOI will undertake, including the “Blue W” program, which encourages people to use reusable water bottles at filling stations; the “Boomerang Bag,” which will provide consumers with reusable, returnable bags at various establishments; and further down the road, sustainable takeout containers. 

“The idea is that we can have this bulk order of compostable takeout containers,” said Ms. Bauman. “I’ve done some research to find out what are some of the best companies where we can find real compostable, biodegradable products.” 

For more information about AHOI and their programming, contact Ms. Brushett at or (709) 691-0485.