(This story is sponsored by Water Docs.)
During his childhood and well into his teenage years, Mark Angelo spent a lot of time along damaged waterways. He quickly became enamored with Glendale Narrows, an 11-mile section of the Los Angeles River that was close to his home in Southern California. While he enjoyed throwing rocks into the flowing water and searching for critters, he was deeply troubled by its state. A large portion of the Los Angeles River, just downstream from where he played, was encased in concrete—it was a dead river.
His early experiences with severely damaged waterways led him to an extremely successful career in the field of river conservation and restoration.
“I came to view rivers as the arteries of our planet, lifelines of human civilization in the truest sense,” says Angelo, who is now an internationally celebrated river conservationist, writer, speaker, and teacher. He’s also been named one of Canada’s greatest modern explorers by Canadian Geographic.
For many years, Angelo was the head of the Fish, Wildlife, and Recreation Program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). He’s also the rivers chair of the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C. and the retired chair of the BCIT River’s Institute.
In 2005, he founded both B.C. Rivers Day and World Rivers Day, an event that’s embraced by people in more than 100 countries. The world’s largest river-related celebration brings awareness to the many values of our waterways and the array of threats they’re facing. The annual event occurs on the fourth Sunday in September.
But most recently, he’s been named the Water Warrior Award Winner at the 2021 Water Docs Film Festival. Water Docs uses film as a catalyst for action to protect water and mitigate the impacts of climate change. However, the weeklong event will look a little different this year as it’s joined forces with several other Canadian film festivals to launch ReSurge: Canadian Film Festivals for a Liveable Climate.
This breakthrough idea brings together film festivals from across Canada to cohost a virtual environmental documentary series, from November 9 to 14, for audiences everywhere. The festival highlights water and climate themes through meaningful discussions with filmmakers, newsmakers, and activists.
It will feature live virtual screenings but all films will be available for viewing until November 30.
The incredibly innovative ReSurge festival will be featuring a screening of Last Paddle? 1000 Rivers, 1 Life by filmmaker Roger Williams. The thought-provoking film follows Angelo as he fearlessly paddles along vulnerable rivers in Canada and around the world.
But Last Paddle? 1000 Rivers, 1 Life wasn’t the first time he worked with Williams. Back in 2016, the duo filmed RiverBlue, a documentary that uncovers the extensive pollution impacts of the fashion industry. In the film, Angelo journeys through some of the most thriving waterways and most polluted rivers by paddle.
Over the past five decades, he’s been embarking on international paddling trips to raise awareness and educate the public on the importance of rivers. He’s visited the Tijuana River in Mexico, Buriganga River in Bangladesh, and Ganges River in India. Like all major waterways, these three rivers have immense cultural significance and are responsible for connecting people, economies, and nature.
“Because I’ve seen so many rivers, I’ve realized that they are amongst the most degraded environments on earth,” says Angelo. “Rivers face threats like pollution, urbanization, industrial development, climate change, the excessive extraction of water, loss of riparian habitats, and the building of dams. This is why we need to make a commitment to protecting the rivers that remain in good shape and restoring the ones that have been damaged in the past.”
Though he retired from teaching at BCIT in 2009, he’s continued to mentor young people with an interest in river conservation while participating in several streamkeeper groups. He believes that engaging youth and children is essential when it comes to restoring our local creeks, streams, and rivers.
It’s for this reason that he decided to write and illustrate a children’s book, which will be available for purchase next month. It’s his hope that The Little Creek That Could: The Story of a Stream That Came Back to Life will help foster a new generation of environmental advocates.
“The book touches upon nature’s ability to recover if only we give it a chance and I think that’s a really important message for kids,” says Angelo. “I spend a fair amount of time exploring rivers and streams with children, including my own grandkids. When I see the interest and enthusiasm that so many young people have toward environmental issues, it really gives me reason for hope.”
Because rivers play such a vital role in the water cycle, it’s imperative that a collective, conscious effort is made to better conserve water and protect local bodies of water. This can be done by using the cold or warm water setting when running laundry or by participating in a streamkeeper group. If you’re unable to volunteer, consider making a donation to a river conservation organization.
“I’ve always believed that you should never give up on any river, no matter how toxic or damaged,” says Angelo. “I’ve seen so many degraded, dead rivers come back to life. If there’s real commitment, dedication, and determination to do things differently, we can turn things around.”
Angelo’s efforts to bring awareness and celebration to the world’s rivers will be recognized at the Water Docs event on Friday, November 12. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.waterdocs.ca/resurgefestival/.