Nova Scotia

How this soapy Instagram stunt can hurt aquatic wildlife

A stunt made popular on Instagram that involves dumping soap into waterfalls has an environmental conservation advocate warning it isn't just bubbly fun.

Environmental advocate found 8 bottles of empty dish soap at one Nova Scotia waterfall

In this file photo from 2013, a waterfall in Western Bay Brook in Newfoundland is filled with bubbles after dish detergent was poured into the water.

An Instagram stunt that involves dumping dish soap into waterfalls has a Nova Scotia environmental conservation advocate worried about how it's affecting aquatic wildlife.

"People need to be aware that it's harmful," Adam Malcolm, who runs the Nova Scotia Species at Risk Facebook page, told CBC's Information Morning Nova Scotia on Thursday.

"I think in some cases people just aren't aware that this is something that can harm wildlife."

Malcolm said the trend has people adding dish soap or bubble bath to waterfalls to take photos and videos to post on social media.

Eight empty bottles of dish soap and bubble bath are seen at Maple Brook Falls in Cape Breton's Inverness County. Malcolm said even biodegradable soap can be harmful to aquatic wildlife. (Adam Malcom/Nova Scotia Species at Risk Facebook)

Last month, Malcolm found eight empty bottles of soap at Maple Brook Falls in Inverness County. He also found some dead plants and two dead American eels.

"I have been there in previous years when people were pouring the suds into the falls ... what's on the surface might look like a nice scene, but down below there's harm going on," he said.

Malcolm said soap, even ones that are marked as biodegradable, can destroy the mucus layer of a fish's skin. It can also damage their gills and their eggs, as well as their habitat.

"A bottle or two could easily — if not kill a fish outright — could do enough damage to the protective mucus layer that they could become vulnerable to bacterial infection and succumb later on," he said.

A dead American eel is seen at Maple Brook Falls. Malcolm said he found two dead eels at the falls last month after someone poured eight bottles of dish detergent in the water. (Adam Malcolm/Nova Scotia Species at Risk Facebook)

Malcolm said he's heard of this trend before but in recent years, he's seen an increase, especially as more people want to post the results on social media for likes or views.

According to Nova Scotia's Environment Act, "knowingly releasing a substance into the environment that causes a significant adverse effect" can come with a two-year jail term and a fine between $1,000 and $1 million.

"It is an illegal act. It's an act of pollution," Malcolm said.

He said some people may not be aware of the harm they are causing by putting soap into freshwater habitats, but he encouraged everyone to consider the impact on the environment.

"It's one symptom of a much bigger problem, which is a cultural problem," he said.

"There's a real need for a cultural shift and understanding that what we do to the environment, ultimately we do to ourselves ... it shouldn't be an afterthought."

With files from CBC's Information Morning Nova Scotia

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