Meet Stella Bowles, the teenager who used science to save the LaHave River.
“Hi, my name is Stella.
I live along the LaHave River and I am sad that I can’t swim in my river. For years now, people have been flushing their toilets directly into the water through straight pipes.”
Very few eleven-year-olds know what a straight pipe is: an illegal pathway that bypasses sewage treatment by linking a toilet directly to a body of water. Stella Bowles found out when her mother forbade her from swimming in the nearby river. It was contaminated with the poop of around 600 homes.
Stella had questions:
Why are the straight pipes allowed if they are illegal?
Do people know they are there?
How polluted actually is the river with poop?
She resolved to answer them.
For a science fair project, in 2016, Stella conducted tests on water samples she took from the LaHave River. The results revealed high levels of fecal contamination, above Canadian safety standards for swimming and boating.
In 2017, she took her research further, looking for other factors that could be contributing to the contamination. For instance, she explored farmland runoff, town sewage, and animal waste as possible causes of the high Enterococci levels. Her project’s title:
‘OH POOP! IT’S WORSE THAN I THOUGHT!’
She shared her findings on social media and campaigned. People had to know, things had to change. Eventually, she got the attention of the municipal and provincial governments. They pledged to clean the river up but needed federal money. They all waited for months. Attention waned. Then Stella had an idea.
She posted a sign by the river pier that read:
THIS RIVER IS CONTAMINATED WITH FECAL BACTERIA
Then a second:
600+ HOMES FLUSH THEIR TOILETS DIRECTLY INTO THIS RIVER
That caught the federal government’s attention. Within a few days, the image of her new sign had reached over 70,000 people. Within a month the Canadian government announced a $15.7 million initiative to clean up the LaHave River, including replacing all 600 straight pipes by 2023.
Stella remains, first and foremost, passionate about science. At the 2018 Fair, her project examined the effect of organic pollution from straight pipes on microscopic creatures called foraminifera. Surprise! The findings showed that the concentration of pollution affects the dominant species.
To science, advocacy: the young girl is now fourteen and a seasoned environmental activist. In collaboration with Coastal Action, she is training young people like her. The workshops teach youth, how to test their waterways, how to fight for a cause that matters to them and how to harness the power of social media to raise awareness and make a difference.
“I hope it can show them that your age shouldn’t put a limit on what you can do,” Stella said in an interview. She hopes her story inspires and mobilizes, and that her children will enjoy a cleaner LaHave River… and, who knows, perhaps swim in it!