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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Treasures Amongst the Trash

By Kerri Reid

After several years of living out of the province, and away from the ocean, my husband Tyler Brett and I moved to Sointula in June of 2013. I was very happy to join the Sointula staff of Living Oceans in August, as I’ve had a deep concern for the state of our environment, and oceans in particular, since childhood. Tyler and I share a huge appreciation for how stunningly beautiful life on the coast is, so I was glad to volunteer and help clean up the coast a bit in September, joining Will (Living Oceans’ Clear the Coast Project Coordinator) and another volunteer named Rafi Perez, for a marine debris clean up at Cape Palmerston, on the west coast of Vancouver Island where Will had put a collector bag for visitors to pitch in any debris they collected over the summer. We hauled out one collector bag full of debris and an old broken fish tote.

Rafi, Will, and Kerri hauling a broken fish tote off the beach at Cape Palmerston.

Tyler had a back injury and couldn’t make it that day, so we were both keen to volunteer again to help Will with another beach clean-up right here on Malcolm Island in October (or Fogtober as it turned out this year). We headed out in a herring skiff from Rough Bay, towards the lighthouse at Pulteney Point to an area where some large pieces of foam and other plastic were reported to have washed ashore.

Tyler and I love being out on the water, and don’t have our own boat (yet!), so, one reward for cleaning up beaches was a boat ride. Because of the rocky shoreline, we actually got to be in two different boats that day – the herring skiff, and then Will’s little blue dingy that Tyler and I rowed in to shore to gather debris while Will drifted along in the skiff. We were pretty excited already, but there were even more rewards for this small bit of volunteering, which I’ll explain further below.

It didn’t take long for us to start filling up our garbage bags, which we then floated out with other larger pieces of debris out to where Will was waiting to haul the garbage in to the skiff. 

Here is a bunch of debris being floated out to where 
Will was waiting in the skiff.

Will pulling in a barrel Tyler had
floated over to him from shore.

Tyler with a very large piece of foam he retrieved from the beach.

As you can see in these photos, we found a lot of fairly large pieces of foam and other debris. What you can’t see in these photos, and is more difficult to document, are the countless miniscule pieces of foam and plastic littering the shorelines. Much like when I helped with the beach clean-up at Cape Palmerston, I couldn’t help but feel quite incredulous and overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the task at hand – we worked for several hours, until the tide was too high and we had to stop. Though we took away a good load of trash, we managed to cover only a very small stretch of beach.

I had obviously been expecting there to be some debris for us to clean up, but I don’t think I had anticipated how much there would be. Part of my surprise relates to the fact that I grew up on a floating home in the Lynnwood Marina, which is under the Second Narrows Bridge in North Vancouver. I grew up seeing a lot of marine debris, and I attributed what was floating by my childhood home to living in such a busy and industrial location. It’s easier to see where it comes from in a city. Coming across so much trash at locations like Cape Palmerston and even here on Malcolm Island was quite a surprise to me, and I’ve had to quickly adjust my perspective. I now realize that even relatively remote areas are far from “pristine.” But I guess that’s what entices people to go beachcombing -there might be a treasure amongst the trash.  

We actually found two treasures that day!  Tyler found a glass float and I found a glass bottle with a message inside.  Will said the amber glass float is quite a rare discovery on Malcolm Island, but, based on his understanding of the currents in these waters, he didn't think it came from Japan.  So, if it's not from Japan, where is it from?  Where does all the trash come from?

Tyler and I with the glass float.

The answer may be linked to the other treasure – the message in a bottle. We were so excited about finding the glass float, we kind of ingored the bottle. Later, Will got the note out of the bottle and the message read: “My names Joe from Wales. I’m 11”, with a phone number in the UK included.

Did the bottle come all the way from Wales? Will called the phone number, and spoke with Joe from Wales, who, as it turns out, had been visiting his uncle on Sonora Island last August, when he launched his message in a bottle.

Karin and Julie at LOS put together this map showing the possible routes the bottle could have taken to get from Sonora Island to Malcolm Island.

Seeing this map, and the possible routes Joe’s message took to get to Malcolm Island, confirms for me that it is quite likely that a great deal of the garbage we find on beaches around here originates from nearby. Though it’s nice to imagine our glass float having floated all the way over from Japan or the message in the bottle coming from Wales, and it would be somewhat simpler if we could just blame a distant country from across the ocean for all the garbage on our shores, it seems the reality may be that we in Canada can take credit for much of the trash, as well as the treasures, on our beaches.

So Tyler and I have come away from that beach clean-up with Will with further questions about how and why plastics end up in the oceans instead of in landfills, an eagerness to help out in future beach clean-ups, a greater resolve to reduce our own consumption of plastics, and a lovely glass float on our kitchen windowsill to contemplate every day.

For more information on Living Oceans’ Clear the Coast campaign, please see our website here:


  1. In the late 1960s I was an assistant lighthouse keeper at Pulteney Point for three years, and we never saw much garbage on the beaches - mostly wood. My how things have changed. In the 60s there was not so much plastic packaging as there is now - mostly cardboard and it broke down or got burnt, or re-used!

  2. Kudos to you guys for taking some time to clean up the shore! Sadly, even if plastics you found ended up at a landfill over in the ocean it wouldn't be much better since plastics don't break down. We really ALL (as Canadians and really as a human race as a whole) need to limit our consumption of plastics in general. The message in a bottle thing is pretty cool - would've been quite the story had it come from Wales!