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General Aquarium

The More You Know: Mangroves

With over 35% of the world’s mangrove forests already gone and more expected to vanish in the future, many species, both aquatic and terrestrial, may find themselves without their vitally important habitat. These identifiable habitats get their name from the thick tangled prop roots of mangrove trees that extend far above the surface of slow-moving bodies of water. It’s this tangled mass of roots that stabilizes the sediment underneath and protects the coastline by preventing erosion due to wave action. In fact, mangrove forests have also been credited in reducing the coastal destruction caused by tsunamis.

Mangrove trees have adapted to survive in stagnant, oxygen-poor, salt water—an environment inhospitable to most plants and trees. Despite mangrove forests covering relatively little of the Earth’s surface, these environments have a remarkable ability to store atmospheric carbon dioxide, meaning they help combat climate change.

Their intricate root systems provide a sheltered habitat for many species of fish. Banded archerfish can be found in abundance in mangroves. Famous for their ability to spit high powered jet streams of water from their mouths, the tangled roots provide concealment from unsuspecting insect prey.

Perhaps the most conspicuous fish residing in mangroves are mudskippers. Mudskippers actually spend the majority of their time out of water. Strong lobe fins allow them to ‘walk’ on land and grab onto mangrove roots for shelter. Their unique ability to breathe through their skin and store water in their gill chambers provide the foundation to a more terrestrial life.

Aside from those species that reside in mangroves permanently, there are those just swimming by for a short period of time. Several species of sharks and rays are known to rely on mangroves as nurseries for their offspring.

Mangroves have continued to disappear over the years. Their less than ideal aesthetic has resulted in many areas clearing them out to host industrial infrastructure or coastal tourist attractions. Upstream dams and irrigation practices create additional pressure by diverting water that would otherwise reach mangroves forests downstream. The resulting droughts and hypersaline waters create an environment few organisms can withstand.

Want to learn more?

The IUCN is currently working to help restore these vitally important habitats.

Invasive Species 1, 2, 3

We’ve all heard the classification of a species as invasive. Let’s explore the magical, mystical world of invasive species and why it’s cause for concern!

What exactly does invasive mean and what makes a species invasive?

Invasive species can be classified as any non-native species that causes harm to local species. That means any living organism that is not normally found in an area, but is brought into that ecosystem and begins destroying the inhabitants of the new ecosystem.

How do species invade? Do they plot to enter a new ecosystem, like by stealthily travelling through a drainage system?

Well, no. Most invasive species arrive at their new ecosystem by unsuspecting humans (whomp, whomp). Humans have gotten very good at travelling long distances in very little time—thanks to air travel, boats, trains etc.—and sometimes we don’t notice that small organisms have hitched a ride. Boats for example, can have aquatic hitchhikers in their ballast water or on their propellers and unknowingly bring them to a new habitat. Some people may even, intentionally or accidently, release a once beloved pet into a non-native ecosystem. Last but not least in the trifecta is climate change. Changing temperatures and precipitation patterns are forcing many species of flora to move to new locations.

Did you know that piranhas have been found in some of the Great Lakes? Although the winter temperature is too cold for their survival, their appearance was likely due an intentional or accidental release.

Once they have invaded, what makes them so good at staying in a new location?

Invasive species have several traits that make them successful at inhabiting new locations. First, they must adapt quickly and well to the ecosystem in which they are introduced. If they don’t adapt, they won’t survive and thrive. Secondly, they need to reproduce quickly and effectively, resulting in a large number of offspring. Last but not least, invaders must be strong competitors. Invasive species wreak havoc on new ecosystems because they outcompete local species for resources such as food, space, or sunlight (in the case of plants).

Currently an estimated 42 percent of threatened or endangered species are classified as such due to invasive species.

I’m an invader, can you guess what I am?

One example of a successful invader you can find at the Aquarium is the lionfish.  Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific region, but have invaded areas throughout the eastern United States and Caribbean. Lionfish have all the traits we just listed. They are very tolerant fish, females can lay eggs year-round—close to two million eggs per year—and they are top predators in the reef environment. Lionfish will consume over 50 different types of fish, sometimes even fish that are half of their body size. Plus, they can expand their stomach 30 times its normal size! Lionfish can decimate the reefs they invade in a very short amount of time. To help combat the lionfish populations, some areas of the Caribbean host fishing derbies in an effort to reduce their population.

If you’d like to learn more, check out a previous Deep Sea Diary here: Fighting the Invasion: RAOC at the Lionfish Invitational

A Message from Our Turtles

June 16th is World Sea Turtle Day, and to honour our reptilian ocean dwellers, here are ten fast facts about them!

dangerous lagoon turtle and shark

  1. There are seven species of sea turtle on the world—Leatherback, Loggerhead, Flatback, Green, Hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, and Olive ridley. The largest, Leatherback turtles, can weigh up to 2,000 lbs.!
  2. Six out of the seven species of sea turtle are at risk—either vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered—with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  3. Turtles help maintain the health of our ocean life. Whether they are playing the role of underwater lawnmower by eating sea grass or keeping jellyfish and sponge populations down, our turtles play a vital role to support healthy aquatic environments.
  4. Unlike other turtles, sea turtles cannot retract their limbs into their shell. This makes them better swimmers, but also more susceptible to predators.
  5. When resting, sea turtles can slow their heart rate down to just one beat every nine minutes.
  6. Nest temperature dictates the sex of turtle hatchlings. Cooler nest temperatures generally result in male turtles, while warmer nest temperatures lead to females.
  7. It is estimated that only one out of every thousand sea turtle eggs will make it to adulthood.
  8. Sea turtles have special glands near their eyes that help them excrete excess salt.
  9. Sea turtles have been on earth a turtle-y long time—over 100 million years!
  10. Sadly, one out of every two sea turtles have ingested plastic.

Sea turtles are remarkable animals, but without our help, they could soon be just a memory. Unsustainable fishing practices, the continuous stream of plastic pollution, poaching, and habitat degradation are just a handful of the strains on our turtle populations. You at home can help by refusing single-use plastic, choosing sustainably sourced seafood, and further educating yourself on sea turtle issues worldwide.

Happy World Sea Turtle Day from Chewy and Spot at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada!

Becoming Ocean Wise

Here, at the Aquarium, we are ocean—and freshwater—enthusiasts. For most of us, we spend all day caring for our aquatic animals, but still enjoy indulging in seafood! You may be asking yourself how this delight fits into our conservation goals and love of the ocean. Well, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada has been involved with an organization called Ocean Wise for almost seven years. Ocean Wise helps guide our decisions when it comes to seafood. In honour of World Oceans Day, we invite you to meet Laura Irvine, Accounts Manager for the Ocean Wise Seafood program.

Along with being passionate about marine conservation and sustainable seafood, she is also an avid birder, hiker, craft beer lover, Raptors fanatic, and world traveler. Dive in with us to learn more about Laura and her role at Ocean Wise!

What is Ocean Wise Seafood?

Ocean Wise Seafood is a not-for-profit conservation program that makes it easy for consumers to choose sustainable seafood for the long-term health of our oceans, lakes, and rivers. We are one of many programs within the Ocean Wise Conservation Association. Our team is based in Vancouver, but we also have staff in Toronto, Quebec City and Halifax.

We provide the most recent scientific data to industry partners (restaurants, retailers, and suppliers) about the sustainability of the seafood they order to influence more ocean-friendly purchasing, and help educate those businesses so they can communicate sustainable choices to diners and consumers. We have over 785 incredible partners in more than 3,100 locations across Canada and beyond, and we participate in a number of industry-facing and consumer education activities throughout the year. The Ocean Wise symbol next to a seafood item is our assurance of a sustainable seafood choice.

What does “sustainable seafood” mean?

The United Nations has defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainable seafood means that we are fishing or farming seafood in responsible ways right now, so that we can continue to enjoy these species, and the healthy ecosystems that support them, for generations to come.

What makes a fishing or farming practice sustainable?

Sustainable fishing and aquaculture practices include:

  • Harvesting that ensures healthy and resilient stocks/populations
  • Effective and adaptive management
  • Limited negative impacts on habitats and other species

What criteria do you use to assess products?

Ocean Wise Seafood recommendations are generated from assessments using the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch (SFW) program methodology: Wild Capture Criteria and Aquaculture Criteria. Ocean Wise’s classification system is based on two categories: sustainable (Ocean Wise Recommended) or unsustainable (Not Recommended).

The wild capture audit methodology determines sustainability based on four criteria:

The aquaculture audit methodology determines sustainability based on ten criteria:

Where can I go to learn more about Ocean Wise and sustainable seafood?

There are a lot of great resources available online!

  • Ocean Wise Seafood – information about the program, sustainable seafood and a lot of other educational resources, including our seafood search engine where you can look up sustainability information on all kinds of seafood options.
  • Ocean Wise Conservation Association – information about other marine conservation programs such as the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, Plastic Wise, Marine Mammal Rescue, Arctic Connections, Research, Education, etc. For those kids spending a lot of time at home right now, you may want to check out Online Oceans for a list of fun activities and digital learning resources!
  • Aquablog – great articles on a number interesting sustainable seafood related topics
  • If you want to find Ocean Wise recommended seafood, visit any of our fantastic partner businesses and ask about their sustainable options. You can make a positive impact by choosing sustainable seafood every time you go to the grocery stores, markets or restaurants you love!

Marine conservation is actually my second career, after spending five years working in international development and research projects overseas. After completing my MSc in Marine Environmental Management at the University of York in England, I spent three years in Central America leading conservation and monitoring projects in local communities, mainly focused on endangered sea turtles. Then I spent another two years working on conservation projects in Ontario, this time with aquatic turtles, snakes, and benthic invertebrates.

There are so few opportunities to work on marine conservation projects while living in Toronto, so when the opening at Ocean Wise Seafood came up, I thought I must be dreaming! I have always been impressed at the collective impact of the research, rescue, community engagement, education, and industry-facing programs at the Ocean Wise Conservation Association—as there are many building threats as well as creative solutions out there for protecting our oceans. I enjoy working for the Ocean Wise Seafood program because our team is so incredibly passionate and dedicated to creating positive change, and we work with outstanding businesses that care deeply about making a difference too. My teammates in the organization and our Ocean Wise Seafood partners inspire me every single day!

While You Were Away, Sand Tiger Shark Mating Got Underway!

Welcome to the Deep Sea Diary: Underwater Love Edition! Today’s topic is why the sharks in our Dangerous Lagoon have been acting so strange. If you have been viewing our underwater Shark Cam, you may have noticed that our sand tiger sharks (the largest in the tank) have been looking and acting a little different. That’s because we have entered the ever-exciting shark mating season here at the Aquarium! Let’s dive into the who, what, when, where, and how of sand tiger shark mating.

Mating behaviour of Ripley’s sand tiger sharks generally begins in the late spring. Our male sand tiger sharks will consume a lot of food prior to mating season, and then immediately lose their appetite for a  period of fasting—sometimes even spitting food back out at us! They then put the pedal to the metal by swimming much faster and closer to the surface of the water as they “patrol” for females. You can expect to see some aggression with other tank inhabitants and among male sand tiger sharks, but typically they will not actually eat the other creatures living in the tank (our other fish can breathe a sigh of relief). The result is one shark becoming the dominant “alpha” male. In contrast to the males, female sand tiger sharks slooooow their swimming speed and prefer to stay in the darker cave area or closer to the exhibit bottom. Patrolling males will protect the area females occupy and eventually the alpha male will force all beta males out by snapping at them. Typically, sand tiger males will not actually bite each other as snapping is enough to force beta males away.

Here you can see the siphon sacs (A) of one of our male sand tiger sharks. These sacs swell with sea water during mating season and aid in propelling sperm through the claspers (B) during copulation.

During copulation, the male shark will bite the female around the fins and side of her body in an effort to slow her movement long enough for his claspers (the male reproductive organs) to transfer sperm. Females will put up some fight but the energetic cost of fighting is too much, so she often concedes, leaving her with superficial wounds on her pectoral fins and belly. Over the course of the mating season a female sand tiger shark will usually copulate with many partners. Females have two oviducts and release three to five eggs per oviduct. In theory, each egg could be fertilized by a different male.

Here’s where it gets weird! Gestation takes eight to nine months and those eggs will begin to hatch inside the female. But rather than exiting the womb immediately, the first shark to hatch will eat the other developing eggs! This is called intrauterine cannibalism. Thus, mature females will actually only birth two pups per cycle (if they’re lucky), which is every other year, resulting in them having one of the lowest reproductive rates of all shark species.

Above you can see some recent (and older) bite marks on one of our female sand tiger sharks. The skin of a female shark can be up to 3x thicker than males to accommodate the “love bites.”

Sand tiger shark mating behaviour and reproduction remained enigmatic until recently, with very few aquariums having reproductive success. To help shed light on this topic we have teamed up with SEZARC (South-East Zoo Alliance for Reproduction and Conservation) to monitor our sand tiger shark mating behaviour, contributing our findings to their database and research. The end goal is to successfully maintain sand tiger shark populations in human care while boosting numbers in the wild through artificial insemination. Although we have had many successful mating events in the past few years (a great sign that our sharks are happy and healthy), we have not yet had a successful pregnancy. Maybe 2020 will be the year!

Swim over to our Shark Cam and see if you can identify our alpha!

For the Love of Fish

Welcome to a very special Deep Sea Diary—our first guest blog! Karen Hawes, a producer for the TVO series Leo’s FishHeads, wrote today’s entry. Leo’s FishHeads is a science-adventure show for kids that gives viewers the opportunity to explore aquatic environments and their inhabitants.

Ask 13-year-old Alex Szarka what’s the best present he ever received and he’ll reply it was a book on sharks when he was three years old. “I spent hours looking at the photos and learning their names and thought they were the coolest creatures in the world,” he remembers. “When I learned how people were killing them, I vowed to protect them and any other fish.” At age three, Alex found his calling and for the last 10 years he hasn’t wavered.

His parents supported his newfound passion with countless trips to Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and enrollment in summer camp. It didn’t take long before Alex could ‘out-fact’ most of the experienced divers we knew. But his TV producer dad, Chris Szarka of Fifth Ground Entertainment, had no way of knowing that his eldest son’s obsession with the fish world would soon inspire a television series.

For his ninth birthday Alex decided that all he wanted was to scuba dive, but he was still too young to get his certification. So instead, he and dad, Chris, started taking pool lessons.

When Chris mentioned his weekend scuba adventures and his son’s obsession with fish while at a meeting with fellow producers Karen Hawes and Raj Panikkar, it sparked the idea of a kids’ TV series. “I never had any intention of making a children’s TV series,” Karen confesses. “But there was something about Alex’s love of fish and the fact that there hadn’t been a kids series that focused on aquatic life. It just felt like there was a series there.” Following that instinct, Karen pitched Chris and Raj on the idea and followed up with a written proposal.

The original working title was Saving Nemo and the three producers had visions of being in Mexico in March, diving with young Alex, and exploring the tropical waters. But a meeting with TVOKids executive Marney Malabar soon shifted the focus closer to home. The producers quickly discovered that fish and waters around Ontario had just as many fascinating fish stories just waiting to be told.

Leo’s FishHeads premiered on TVOKids in March. The 26-episode series features a new aquatic creature each week as the two young hosts, Christian and Sayat, help expert protect our underwater neighbours. Christian and Sayat, along with their animated cohost, Leo the Catfish, comprise the FishHeads Explorer Club. Their mission? To inspire the at-home FishHeads to head down to the riverbank, have their own adventures, and get involved in protecting our waters and the creatures that call them home. The series also spawned a game! In Leo’s FishFinders, players can help tag and monitor fish, remove invasive species, and clean up the ecosystem. New episodes of Leo’s FishHeads air weekly on Thursdays at 6 p.m.

“Given his passion and his incredible knowledge, we really wanted Alex to host the show. But by the time we were set to start filming, he was already over 6 feet tall from a growth spurt, which didn’t read as a 10-year-old— which was the look the series was going for,” producer Raj explains. “But Alex is now a certified diver and he’s come out to shoot some underwater material for a couple of our episodes. He even appears as a guest in an episode on alewifves and rainbow trout that we collaborated on with Ripley’s, which seems very fitting.”

The episode “Friend or Foe” was partially shot at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada with Senior Aquarist Kevin McAvoy. In the episode, Kevin introduces the FishHeads to the alewife and Ripley’s shark diver Mareesha Kulps, who acted as a safety diver for Alex and divemaster Mario Medarevic for the underwater portion of the shoot.

Alex’s passion has not abated; he’s built himself a 55-gallon aquarium where he’s provided a home for a number of different fish—including helping rehabilitate one with a broken back! “I never wanted to be anything else but a Marine biologist,” he says. “Maybe someday I’ll work for Ripley’s!”

You can tuna in to new episodes of Leo’s FishHeads on TVO or visit their YouTube channel for previously aired episodes.

10 Most Underrated Animals at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada

Have you ever walked by an exhibit, and thought to yourself “Meh, boring!”? Well those animals you walk by so carelessly have banded together to show you that they are more jaw-some than you know!

1. Bluegill (Canadian Waters)

Found in one of the first tanks at the Aquarium, after the entrance to our Canadian Waters gallery, these adorably small sunfish are found all over North America in streams and lakes. If you visit a body of water in Ontario and keep still, you’ll most likely have one swim up to you out of curiosity! They have a beautiful blue and purple colour, with some orange along the sides during mating season. Bluegill are vital to many food webs, as they prey on invertebrates, and are found to be prey to a wide variety of larger animals like bass, muskellunge, perch, walleye, herons, and even otters!

2. Freshwater Eels (Canadian Waters)

These slippery creatures are in a small tank in Canadian Waters, and you might not notice them until you look closely—they look like tree branches and have excellent camouflage! These fish used to be very abundant in rivers, but in Canada their population has dwindled because of the construction of hydroelectric dams, which has blocked their migration routes.

3. Sea Star (Canadian Waters)

Sea stars are known for their fun shape that usually include five arms! As many people may know, sea stars are also known for their really cool ability to regrow their limbs! The central body usually needs to remain somewhat intact to allow this; if one arm falls off, they can regrow their severed arm.

Sea stars also have the craziest way to eat! They actually consume their prey outside of their bodies. How?! Well, when they come across their prey they will expel their stomachs to digest the creature, then slurp up the digested mucus back into their central system!

4. Arctic Graylings (Kelp)

These small fish are often overlooked, but for animals that are home to our northern waters in Canada, they are quite colourful! These fish have a very busy life cycle. Arctic Graylings are found to spawn in rivers, lakes, and around Arctic Ocean drainages like Hudson Bay, Alberta, and British Columbia. These Canadian fish also have beautiful colouring during mating season—males’ change to bright blues, pinks and purples.

5. Wrasse (Rainbow Reef)

We have several different species of wrasse in our Rainbow Reef exhibit. They are really fun looking fish! Wrasse are named for their beak-like rostrum that’s adapted to help them feed. Males are large and have brighter colour patterns, but females are significantly smaller and have duller patterns, usually of white and black.  These fish also undergo sequential hermaphroditism—changing sex at some point in their life.

6. Butterflyfishes (Rainbow Reef)

There’s a variety of different types of butterflyfish in the world—126 species to be exact—and you can find a sample in our Rainbow Reef! Butterflyfish are known as corallivores, which means they feed on coral. They are territorial and typical keep to a specific coral piece or anemone with a partner. These fish come in multiple colour patterns, and some species are known to change colour at night for added protection.

7. Wobbegong Sharks (Reef Sharks)

Wobbegong sharks aren’t typically noticed during someone’s’ visit to the Aquarium, but they are some crazy looking sharks! If you pass our Reef sharks tank, you might not see them at first glance, but if you look closely around the bottom, you might get a glimpse of our nocturnal ornate wobbegong or tasselled wobbegong. These sharks have a heavy camouflage, with brown, yellow, green and blue-grey tones, and small flaps of skin that look a lot like coral. They’re named after a term that describes their ‘beard’—a cluster of barbels that act as sensory organs and help with added camouflage.

8. Isopods (Shipwrecks)

They may look like scary creepy-crawlies, but our isopods are harmless! Typically, isopods range around 5 centimeters, but these are an example of deep-sea gigantism because they are so much larger than their “pill-bug” relatives. Isopods share the ability to curl up into a ball and allow their exoskeleton to protect them. They are not aggressive to humans, although they wouldn’t want to be handled by us either!

9. Archerfish (The Gallery)

Archerfish are native to rivers and brackish waters in hot climates and have adapted to hunt insects and invertebrates found above the surface of the water.  They actually jump out of the water to catch their prey! These accurate shooters can bring down insects and other prey from up to 3 meters above the water’s surface. They do this with great eyesight and the ability to compensate for the refraction of light.

10. Upside Down Jellies (Planet Jellies)

Upside down jellies may look boring, but they certainly are not! A lot of people ask us if they can sting or have nematocysts, and the answer to that is yes! They can actually send out their nematocysts further than other stingrays and those can be suspended in the water column up to 6 feet! When you see an upside down jelly, keep that in mind and keep your distance. Upside down jellies excrete a bomb-like mucus that houses their nematocysts. This helps ward off predators and kill small prey, like brine shrimp.

What animals do you think are underrated?

Let ‘minnow’ in the comments below!

Vulnerable, Threatened, Endangered—but not Gone Yet!

Did you know that this Friday is Endangered Species Day? The 15th Annual Endangered Species Day, we might add—a turtle-y awesome time to learn about endangered and threatened species at the Aquarium!

Let’s take dive into Elasmobranchs, a subclass of cartilaginous fish the includes sharks, rays, skates, and sawfish. At the Aquarium, we have several different species of shark, largest being the sand tiger shark. Sand tiger sharks are currently listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). With one of the lowest reproduction rates of all sharks, female sand tiger sharks will only birth two pups each cycle, contributing to their IUCN status. Additionally, as with many other shark species, shark finning continues to be a major contributor to worldwide declines in their population and has pushed many species to unprecedented low numbers.

sawfish

Another Elasmobranch resident of our Dangerous Lagoon is the sawfish. Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada has two green sawfish—a male and a female! Known for their rostrum or “saw,” the green sawfish is critically endangered. In fact, there are five known species of sawfish and all are either critically endangered or endangered. In addition to being slow to reach maturity and reproduce, the sawfish is easily entangled in discarded fishing gear, and is facing the loss of their coastal habitats due to human activity. Unfortunately, the sawfish rostrum is also a valuable trophy, which leads to active hunting of the species.

Flapping around Ray Bay are the Aquarium’s majestic spotted eagle rays! These graceful animals are one of the largest species of eagle ray and are known for jumping up out of the ocean—sometimes mistakenly into a passing boat! Once again, their low reproduction potential, with only one to four pups a litter, contributes to their status of near threatened. Although they are not commercially fished, they are often entangled in commercial nets accidentally.

Lastly, in Dangerous Lagoon, are the green sea turtles. These beautiful creatures are listed as endangered with the IUCN. Sadly, human activity is the root cause of their decline. Sea turtles are susceptible to humans at all stages of their life cycle. Females lay their eggs on very particular beaches, and with coastal development and beach-goers, the eggs are very vulnerable from the moment they are laid. For those that do survive, hatch, and venture out to sea to mature, green sea turtles may become ensnared in discarded fishing gear or may accidentally ingest the plastic waste that has been building up in our oceans for decades.

Luckily, you can help these species rebound! A common theme with these endangered and threatened animals is bycatch, and an easy way to make sure that you are not contributing to unsustainable fishing practices is to learn about sustainable seafood labels and carry a small guide. You can visit our friends at OceanWise for one!

A little closer to home: did you know that all native Ontario turtle species are either threatened, endangered, or a special concern? Turtles are usually on the move from April to September, so when you venture out onto the roads, please be sure to slow down around watersheds, especially if you see a turtle crossing sign.

Let’s agree to take better care of our oceans and their inhabitants on Endangered Species Day—and every day from now on!

Upcycling 101: Simple at Home Projects

At this point, many of us have cleaned our house, checked things off of the “to-do” list, and said “Well, now what?” This is a great time to better your environmental footprint—diving into Earth-friendly habits and projects. One way to do so is to start upcycling!

The term upcycling was officially coined in 1998, as a way for companies to create and market products made from used materials. This concept reduces the amount of raw materials used and the waste that eventually ends up in our landfills. Let’s reuse as much as we can—keeping upcycling front of mind—and help make our world a better place!

Create something upcycled yourself:

Newspapers and magazines are good for creating small baskets. All you need is glue, scissors, a ruler, and a few pages from a magazine. Cut 2 to 3 centimeter strips of magazine and then fold and glue them into thirds—using the folded strips to create a lattice. Weave the strips in and out to make the box bottom. Use the ruler to fold up the sides and continue weaving in and out. Finally fold the edges down for a clean finish!

Image of Newspaper and magazines being used ot create a small basket

Have your sorted through your closet yet? Find any shirts that don’t fit, but are too sentimental to throw out? Use it to make a pillow or attach it to a canvas to create art! Old shirts can even be made into useful bags for groceries! The pillow we made isn’t too difficult, but does involve a sewing machine, scissors, a long ruler, chalk, and a pillow. Trace the pillow with chalk on the inside of the shirt. Sew under the neckline and cut away the scraps. Plan out where the back fold will go (for this pillow, we cut and hemmed the back of the shirt and used the existing hem of the front of the shirt for the other back edge). Sew the sides and flip right side out. Even a sewing machine novice can make an upcycled pillow!

Old t-shirt being used to create a pillow case cover

Towels can be cut smaller into rags, but they can also be used to make shower mats or even beach bags! For this project, only the handles are sewn—the sides of the bag use an easy “no sew” method. For this project, all you need is a towel, scissors, sewing needle, thread, and strap material (we used a strong ribbon). Cut the towel to the width of the bag you would like. Fold the piece in half (the fold will be the bottom of the bag). Use scissors to cut strips on both sides. These strips should be 3 to 4 centimeters long and 2 centimeters wide. Tie the front and back strips in a double knot starting from the bottom of the bag, then sew on some straps!

Towel cut into small rags and being made into beach bags

Not only does upcycling reduce the amount of materials we use and saves us money, it also saves animals! About 100,000 animals die every year by eating or getting tangled in plastic. Upcycling is one way we can help reduce that number and make our world a better place!

Think of other upcycling projects you can do using materials you would normally throw away and together we can work toward zero waste! Care to share below?

Earth Day’s 50th Shell-abration

People had had enough, as unregulated pollutants filled the sky, a river erupted into flames, and oil soaked wildlife perished before their eyes. Millions came together to speak up for the environment and fifty years ago the first Earth Day was born. Once again we are called upon to give our environment and all of its inhabitants a voice. This year’s Earth Day theme is “climate action” and now more than ever is the time to embrace our role as environmental stewards and ‘shell’abrate our planet!

We have a few quick suggestions of how you can spend this Earth Day!

1) Green up your thumb

Did you know that having plants in your home not only lowers your stress levels but it also boosts concentration and productivity? Whether you are sprucing up the backyard with a few perennials or adding a hanging basket to the balcony there are endless ways to bring nature into your home. Plus, if you want a fun and engaging activity for kids, try making earth day seed bombs! We have easy to follow instructions you can use.

Click Here for Instructions!

2) Audit yourself

Sounds fun, right? I’m speaking of a waste audit of course! Do you know how much single-use plastic your household uses? How about if all members of the family know what goes in the blue bin? Now would be a great time to take a peek in your waste bins and find out! Use your audit as a way to improve your waste habits, are there small things you can change immediately to help the environment?

3) Watch a nature show

We are constantly learning new exciting things about our oceans, why not learn a few new tidbits yourself? After all, the more informed you are, the better environmental advocate you can be! There are plenty of options at your disposal when it comes to nature shows. I may be a little biased but I would always suggest one that features the blue parts of our planet.

4) Become a citizen scientist

Becoming a scientist has never been easier or more rewarding! You can help track species, collect samples and contribute to data sets that guide scientific research. Browse an in-depth list of projects that need volunteers here: Scistarter.org/finder and get researching! My personal favourites are turtle tallies, any excuse to go searching for turtles is awesome in my books!

How will you spend your Earth Day? Why not share below?