Coming To Light
He looked at the canal as the water slowly drained. People stood all along the banks, eagerly watching to see what was hidden underneath.
The water suddenly bounced with movement. It happened so fast that he wasn’t sure if he imagined it. But it was the reason so many people had gathered to watch. Its secrets were coming to light after 15 years in the dark.
Bernard Marc, 54, lived in Paris his whole life. He’s seen it grow to the mega-metropolis it is today and has seen countless people pass through.
As a proud husband and father of two, Bernard cared about making the city they lived in as safe as it could be for his family. This is why he signed up to help authorities complete a mammoth task that would eventually lead to a shocking discovery.
Canal Saint-Martin is one of the most popular canals in Paris. It was built in the 18th century to provide clean potable water in an attempt to control the health problems in the city at the time. It was also used to carry food and building supplies.
Now, however, the canal has become something else entirely.
For many years, Bernard witnessed how people treated the canal like their own personal trash can. It was an issue he fought against for years so when the council asked for help in cleaning out the canal, Bernard offered his hand straight away.
Little did he know, he was nowhere near prepared for what they’d find down there.
A Rich History
The canal was the site of many key events during the French Revolution. It has a rich history that has attracted tourists and locals for decades.
So when Paris announced that it would drain the canal for cleanup, it was no surprise that many people were eager to see what was hidden beneath the historic water.
An Early Start
Bernard has often sat along the banks and in surrounding cafes, admiring the splendor of the canal with his family alongside other Parisians. But now, Bernard was standing in a waterproof bodysuit holding a big suction hose that connected to a huge tank.
They had an early start, beginning the draining process at 5.30 am. Everything was going smoothly so far but that was all about to change.
Something Was Wrong
The lower the water level became, the more Bernard wanted to see what was hiding on the canal bed. But just as he was looking in wonder across the water surface, he saw something move from the corner of his eye.
The movement left a massive wave of ripples in its wake. Something was wrong.
The team continued to drain the canal until they left with only around 50 cm of water. It was time for Bernard to jump in and manually help cleaning up the canal.
He put his elbow-length gloves on, reached for a net, and made his way down into the murky water, trying to ignore the bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. What caused those ripples earlier? He tried to forget about it and focus on the job at hand.
Bernard waddled around in the dirty water, fishing out a net full of trash any time he waved his net underwater. He looked at his findings with disgust.
When he walked towards the trashbag to empty his find, he felt something huge move under his foot. He jumped back in horror as the water began to split in half. His heart raced.
He had no idea what he was looking at. He just knew he needed to get out of there, quick. But before he had a chance to back up, water started to splash violently around him.
Seeing the trouble Bernard was in, a co-volunteer rushed towards him to see what was happening. “Stay still Bernard!”, he cautioned. “Let me get a closer look.”
Sad And Angry
The man grabbed his net and cleared some of the trash away. What came into view left them both in a state of turmoil.
Bernard could just about make out the shape of the biggest fish he had ever seen. Its eyes alert with aggression and fear as it tried to break itself free from the astonishing object that was holding it.
Fish And Waste
Bernard helped the man free the giant trout from a wheel of a vintage scouter that must have cost a very pretty penny once upon a time. They then scooped up the beast in a net and transferred it to a more suitable habitat. It was just the first of many rescues that day.
Bernard and his team fished out more than five tons of carp, trout, and bream and removed more than 40 tons of waste from the water. But that’s not all.
Walking along the shallow depths was like walking on a dumpsite filled with thousands of bikes.
“It’s like some kind of weird submarine treasure,” said a local Parisian onlooker. “I just can’t believe the quantity of Vélibs in there. I guess they were stolen and thrown in afterward. It’s bizarre,” he shrugged. But what was harder to believe, was how much this operation cost the city.
Paris had to shell out more than $10 million to execute this much-needed cleaning operation. But with the amount of tourist attraction and property development the canal attracts, it’s important to keep it from falling into despair which would negatively affect the attraction and property pricing around the area.
As for Bernard, he had other worries…
Hope For The Future
“That’s Paris for you, it’s filthy,” Bernard sighed. “The last time [the canal drained], I don’t remember seeing so much rubbish in it. I despair. The Bobos are using it as a dustbin.”
Bernard and authorities now know they are dealing with a waste crisis when it comes to the canal. He continues to try to help the canal remain clean and respected as a valuable landmark to be nurtured. Then perhaps in the future, people could even swim in it.