Penticton student journeys to Midway

While many high school students are looking forward to spring break as a chance to kick back or perhaps even travel with their family to Europe, Mexico or some other exotic locale, Penticton Secondary student Emily Chartrand is making plans to go a bit farther afield, at least in terms of distance from civilization.

Pen High student Emily Chartrand has been chosen to accompany a group of artists to Midway Island over spring break

While many high school students are looking forward to spring break as a chance to kick back or perhaps even travel with their family to Europe, Mexico or some other exotic locale, Emily Chartrand is making plans to go a bit farther afield, at least in terms of distance from civilization.

On March 20, the 17-year-old Penticton Secondary student will be joining world-renowned artist and activist Chris Jordan, Naramata filmmaker Jan Vozenilek and other artists as they journey to the Midway Islands to document the devastating effects of plastic pollution on the oceans.

It was during a presentation at Pen High by Jordan — one she helped arrange — that Chartrand found out she would be going on the journey. Along with Vozenilek, Jordan announced that Chartrand had been chosen to be one of the students accompanying them on the March trip.

“I was so excited, I cried a little,” said Chartrand, who admits her family is nervous about the long trip, but said they are still very supportive of the her involvement in the project.

“My mom is trying not to show it so much,” said Chartrand, who, along with her sister and parents, has a long history of social involvement.

The Midway Atoll is at the northwest reach of the Hawaiian archipelago, about a third of the way between Honolulu and Tokyo, Japan; a U.S. territory set aside as a national wildlife refuge. While it’s home to a wide variety of bird species, there are only about 60 people living there, researchers and caretakers.

“The island is only accessible with a permit so I am extremely lucky to be going there,” said Chartrand. The artists are creating a documentary around the Midway albatrosses, which scoop up the brightly coloured bottle caps and other floating trash from the ocean thinking it is food and are dying by the thousands as a result.

“I think it’s going to be really hard to see … we really need to change. I think this is going to reignite the flame inside myself,” said Chartrand, though with her history of activism, it doesn’t seem like her flame is burning low.

Jordan’s photographs and Vozenilek’s films of albatrosses carcasses stuffed with plastic shocked the world into disbelief, including Chartrand, who saw a presentation from Vozenilek in January 2010. That gave her a new goal, and brought an end to a long-term company she started at age eight along with her older sister Chantal.

Over the course of nine years, the Chartrands packaged some 10,000 bags of green jelly beans as Ogopogo poop, using the profits to support charitable work in Mexico. But after seeing Vozenelik’s work, their consciences could not let them continue using the plastic packaging and they ended their company.

Chartrand, however, became an anti-plastic advocate at the school, organizing events and seminars, even arranging for 1000 metal water bottles to be donated to students at the school to replace plastic ones.

She will be helping Jordan and the other artists with their work as well as blogging her journey at emilysmidwayjourney.blogspot.com. This is one of several trips made by the group, who plan to release the resulting documentary, Midway, in 2012. Ongoing updates on the project are available at www.midwayjourney.com.