No matter where she goes in Newfoundland, Monica Engel says, she can find plastic litter. (Jane Adey CBC)
Newfoundlanders are hopeful about the long-term health of the ocean surrounding them but that doesn't mean they aren't worried at the same time, says a Memorial University PhD student currently travelling the island for research.
"There's a really strong and deep connection with the ocean here," said Monica Engel, who is currently exploring the relationship Newfoundlanders have with the ocean through the Early Career Research Grant from National Geographic.
That work began with a short trip around Newfoundland for preliminary observations that allowed her to gather baseline information that she used to develop her questionnaire, she said.
Engel set out again to travel the island a few weeks ago, and though she is early in her project she has already taken away a few conclusions.
Newfoundlanders have a strong relationship with the ocean, Engel has found, which means both worries about and hope for its health. (Submitted by Tom Eagan )
"People are concerned about the pollution of the ocean," she told Newfoundland Morning.
"Everybody talks about the amount of plastic that's everywhere."
Concerns about single-use plastics
There is an increasing body of research on the impact of single-use plastics on the environment, including marine ecosystems, and Engel said she sees that in person "all the time."
No matter where she has gone so far in Newfoundland, she said, from small communities with year-round populations to uninhabited areas in the middle of nowhere, plastic can be found.
Even in places where humans aren't leaving plastic in the environment directly it can be washed ashore with the waves, Engel said.
"Along the coast, it's just … it's everywhere."
There is discussion of recycling systems around the province and how those could improve, she said, but some problems can also be chalked up to a lack of effort.
"They also say that they see so many people just being careless, or not being aware of that," Engel said of the people she has spoken to for her questionnaire.
Offshore oil worries, but also hope
Offshore oil development has also come up as Engel continues her research, which will next take her to the Great Northern Peninsula, the Burin Peninsula, the Avalon Peninsula and the island's west coast.
"The pollution and contamination, and the dangers of having offshore oil drilling in the ocean, is at the top of their minds," she said.
Engel began her travels in Newfoundland for research the same week oil spilled from a flowline to the FPSO SeaRose.
Engel began collecting information for her questionnaire the week of the recent Husky oil spill, and said people shared concerns about the state of the oceans.
While people are fearful of what the future of the ocean could look like, Newfoundlanders are also hopeful and believe that work can be done to improve things, she said.
After her travels are done, Engel will analyze her research, which she predicts will be ready to share with the public in a year or year and a half.