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River Torrens – Community Interview

CVA Project Officer, Emily Zhang

AKA The Local Superhero
Emily Zhang, CVA Project Officer

This post was originally published on The Campfire.

Emily is used to getting up at the crack of dawn to save the world, one piece of ocean litter at a time. For her, it’s her weekly routine and her job, but for the Torrens River (and all its inhabitants) – she’s a local hero.

Emily Zhang is the South Australia Project Officer for Conservation Volunteers Australia – and her current focus is protecting the local Torrens River as part of the organisation’s wider #SeaToSource project. She also claims her spirit river animal would be an otter, partly because they’re a community-minded animal, but mostly because they’re cute – which is equally as important.

Starting at 7am, Emily spends a lot of her week collecting, sorting and analysing litter scattered along the Torrens River. Some days are even spent conducting microplastic surveys.But for the 28-year-old, her love affair with the river started right back in high school when she moved to Adelaide at the age of 13. She says it’s always been a healing place, and somewhere she chooses to still often spend weekends, on top of her 9-5 role.

As an important part of the wider Adelaide community, Emily describes how the Torrens River is a sanctuary for many people to walk, kayak, visit local horses and catch glimpses of rare native wildlife. Essentially, it’s a part of what many South Australian’s consider home. As a regular at the riverside, with litter bag in hand, she’s often asked what she’s doing by local passersby – which she says is a great opportunity to communicate with people about the positive impact her actions are having on the river, its native inhabitants and the entire ecosystem.

“Caring for the river also means caring for the native animals that people spend so much time and energy protecting, and the ocean which is a food source or source of income for so many people.

“A lot of people think that protecting a river is only about that particular river, but it means so much more. Protecting the river is really about protecting yourself, and your community and society.”

With 2020 being a year of change for Emily, she says she’s noticed people’s mindsets changing too. Less people are littering, and more people are aware of the world around them, but that the key is education which is where Emily’s passion lies. Ideally, she says, everyone should be able to link their actions with the consequences, which unfolds through caring, compassion and seeing the interlinked nature of our lives with the environment we live in.

“For example, say someone likes sea kayaking, it’s about creating that link for them and telling them if the river is unhealthy, the litter will go out to sea and your kayaking experience will change. People will eventually realise that their actions have consequences, and that those consequences have further consequences.”

Starting with CVA as a volunteer four years ago and transitioning into a full time role, Emily’s weirdest find to date has been the leg bone of a tagged pigeon, which she still keeps in her desk drawer, in the off chance it’s good luck. Emily says working and volunteering with CVA has taken her to places she never would have thought to go, and that are easily overlooked as being environmentally significant. For her it broadened her own experiences and knowledge of Adelaide – as well as giving her the feeling of accomplishing something rewarding each day.

“Even if a day is spent planting 20 trees, that’s a big difference for a single individual to make.”

With a degree in Environmental Management, and four years in the field, Emily says she now sees herself working in nature into the future. She finds it healing.

“Although you’re doing something good for nature, at the same time it’s giving you something that’s so valuable. Every day you go on site and even if you’ve visited that site for the last ten years, you’ll find something that surprises you daily.

To read more from the River Torrens community, go to The Campfire:

Read more about River Torrens on The Campfire


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