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    Portrait of a man in his sixties near a red-painted farmhouse.
    For years, Stan Tobin has been fighting to protect marine life and to ensure that more prevention is done to avoid environmental disaster.

    Stan Tobin, the calf farmer who saves birds

    Day 5 of my solo bike trip across Canada.

    Cycling from Placentia to Cape St. Mary’s, I passed a series of small villages scattered around the road that winds through the hills of this region west of St. John’s. Among them, the coastal village of Ship Cove is populated by three inhabitants: Stan Tobin, his wife and his mother!

    Stan, a robust three-times-twenty-year-old, tells me he was born there and has lived there all his life. Now that his children are on their own, he looks after his cows and calves with his wife Dolorès, who also runs their creamery in St. John’s. In fact, their butter tastes so good that it’s even sold in neighbouring provinces. 

    But for the past fifteen years, Stan Tobin has been passionate about birds and the environment. Modest and discreet, he hadn’t told me when we met that he’s one of Newfoundland’s most deserving environmentalists. In fact, he is one of the founders of the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Association (NLEA), which is very active in the province in dealing with birds contaminated by illegal pollution at sea. Nearby is the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve, under constant threat from such disasters.

    Over the past 30 years, oil spills have killed millions of birds on the southwest coast of Newfoundland, according to the Canadian Coast Guard. The most affected wildlife includes murres and thick-billed murres, common mergansers, eider ducks, gulls, guillemots, common loons and bald eagles,” says the Coast Guard website. Research suggests that, for every oiled bird found on shore, there are ten more lost.”

    During an oil spill 116 km long and 200 m wide caused in 2002 by a Bahamian ship off the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve, Stan said that what affected him most was the tragic fate of the young gannets, which could not yet use their wings, slipped on the oil slicks without being able to fly away…

    Today, the oil industry is committed to learning from past mistakes. The most recent was just a few years ago, with a 250,000-litre spill, the largest in Newfoundland’s history… For its part, the Canadian Coast Guard is constantly improving its Marine Spill Contingency Plan. Despite all this, the risk still remains in Newfoundland and elsewhere in the world.

    Text by Éric Clément and Bertrand Lemeunier.

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