The first thing I always look at when walking out onto a beach is the ocean. Whether or not there is anything to be seen other than a huge expanse of water, the sound of waves crashing and the smell in the air immediately draw my attention. After that, I take in other details: the sand (or lack thereof), the plants and animals, and more often than not, the garbage. Even in places that seem to be just barely touched by humans, you can find the usual suspects, be it cans and bottles, Styrofoam or the ever-present plastic.
While some of said garbage is the work of local beach users, much of it also comes from the ocean. This “marine debris”- essentially any made-made object that ends up in the ocean- washes ashore over time. Aside from ruining a day at the beach, marine debris is also a serious threat to ecosystems in and outside of the ocean. The problem is too huge for any one person or group to tackle, which is why we need your help.
Marine debris near Cape Palmerston on northern Vancouver Island, BC
Working as the summer student in Living Ocean's Sointula office, part of my work revolves around our Clear the Coast project. While the project takes several forms- including the collection of ghost fishing gear and the dismantling of abandoned boats- a large focus is beach debris. Working with BC Parks, this summer Living Oceans has started a pilot program in which collector bags are provided at popular North Island beaches. The bags (which are made of recycled fishing nets) are currently on the beaches at San Joseph Bay, Raft Cove, Cape Palmerston Recreation Area, Grant Bay and Hecht Beach. While the different beaches have varying amounts of marine debris, there is only more coming in with the tide.
Fortunately, some locals recognize this problem and help out by picking up marine debris and carrying it out with them, though trails and the sheer amount of debris can make doing so difficult. With the collector bags, we hope more people will take the time to pick up debris, especially now that they won't have to carry it out themselves. At the end of the summer, bags will be collected and the debris in them properly disposed of.
Collector bag at Raft Cove on northern Vancouver Island, BC
This week, Will (the project coordinator) and I traveled out to Grant Bay, then Hecht Beach. Having put out a bag at Grant Bay a few weeks ago, we could tell it was slowly starting to fill up. Hopefully we will come back to a full bag soon, as there is plenty of debris to go around. Our first trip to Hecht Beach was quite shocking- there is certainly no shortage of debris there! We set up one bag, with a second (and clearly necessary) bag soon to follow. On the positive side, beachgoers have been stockpiling garbage they can't carry out above the tide line- hopefully these same people will help make the project a success. While I would say these two beaches have the most debris of the places we've visited, they are also two of the most beautiful. With a little attention and care, I would say they could easily become even more so.
Marine debris (complete with half-full gear oil container) from 20 minutes of collecting at Hecht Beach on northern Vancouver Island, BC
While the challenge may seem insurmountable, the more people pitch in, the less daunting the task will be. Even in the short time the bags have been out, they are starting to fill up. And, as we deploy and monitor them, we meet ordinary people helping to clean up the places they love. With some effort and determination, we can make our beaches even more beautiful and something to be even more proud of. More importantly, we can reflect on what has led to this problem: our plastic-filled, disposable lifestyle. So, next time you're out at a beach and see some garbage, don't be discouraged- be part of the solution.
Andrew (right) and lapsed blogger Jake Etzkorn after a successful cleanup at Lizard Point on Malcolm Island, BC