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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Raft Cove and beyond - further adventures in marine debris

Andrew Mitchell is Living Oceans Society's summer student, working on our Clear the Coast project on Northern Vancouver Island.

Since my last blog post, we've made two more trips out to check up on our collector bags. Last week we visited Raft Cove and Cape Palmerston, while this week we made the long trip out to Hecht Beach. Fortunately, some lovely people have been filling up those bags, giving us plenty of time to relax on the beach (joking). Thank you to all you good Samaritans, and keep up the good work!

Our planned trip to Raft Cove took a bit of an interesting twist (and took on the slightest hint of patchouli) when we learned of the impending World Rainbow Gathering taking place there. Though the park has since been closed, over 1800 people had confirmed their attendance on the event’s Facebook page. Though we didn't quite know what to expect, when we arrived there were about 15 cars in the parking lot and reportedly about 50 people camped out down the beach. Whether it was the Rainbow Gatherers or other park visitors, someone had clearly been picking up some debris. We also had a volunteer with us: Megan Baker from Cetus Research and Education Society, who hooked us up with the Cetus truck to use. We tied off out first full net bag and stored it above the tide line for pickup later. After replacing the bag and checking on the second father down the beach (about half full), we were on our way. We found the bag out at Cape Palmerston nearly full, with some additional bags full of Styrofoam and other debris stacked around it. Between the three of us we replaced the bag and carried the full one out through the short trail.

Last week’s trip to Hecht Beach, though certainly not unpleasant, was also discouraging. It’s unbelievable how much debris we found in a small area of the beach. Worse still, lots of it was Styrofoam, which has an unfortunate tendency to break into smaller and smaller pieces over time. Eventually, a big chunk of Styrofoam that would be simple to pick up becomes a myriad of tiny bits that take far longer to collect. These Styrofoam bits persist in ecosystems for vast amounts of time, release toxins into the marine environment and can be ingested by wildlife.  That’s not to say that Styrofoam is the only harmful thing that washes up. Various types of debris can have different negative impacts, whether ingestion, entanglement, pollution or any of several other problems.

All marine debris can damage ecosystems in various ways, which is, ultimately, the reason it needs to be removed.  On the beach, we focused our collecting energies on a patch of driftwood, where everything from bottles to boots were mixed up between the logs. Just when you thought you’d finished an area, you’d look at it from another angle and see even more debris! Three garbage bags of debris later, we tied up the now-full collector bag and hung up its replacement. By that time, the morning fog had burned off, and we could finally get a good look at how beautiful the beach is- a quintessential west coast landscape of rock beaches, sparkling blue water and endless trees. That alone made the trip worthwhile, and I look forward to going out there sometime without carrying a garbage bag around the whole time!

While little pieces of Styrofoam are a problem, so are other kinds of (much larger) debris. To date, two small Japanese boats have been spotted washed up on shore. These too could release toxins into the ecosystem and could also crush habitats.  The first, which was spotted back in January, is just north of Cape Palmerston, while the other boat, which was spotted quite recently, is west of San Jo Bay. Both of these sightings were found thanks to our Clear the Coast partners at West Coast Helicopters, and were reported on Living Oceans’ Clear the Coast map. The map is the place where reports are posted from anyone who tells us about marine debris they've seen- be it a washed up vessel, some ghost fishing gear, or general items. Everyone is encouraged to contribute, as the map will help give a clear picture where debris is accumulating and (hopefully) where people are helping to clean it up. All you need to do is fill out a form with the details (where, when, etc.) and we’ll upload that information onto the map.

In summary, we now have more than 3 bags worth of garbage collected- and keep in mind these are much larger than a garbage bag! One net bag could easily hold 10 full regular sized bags and still have room left over for some Styrofoam.  Thanks again to the people out there helping us help the oceans. Don’t forget to report anything you find via our website so we can form an accurate picture of the problem and help formulate better solutions. Be sure to check out what’s on the map so far, and hopefully the next time you do, it will be updated with more firsthand accounts from others. Keep up the good work, and keep pitching in against marine debris.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Summer cleaning on Northern Vancouver Island

Andrew Mitchell is Living Oceans Society's summer student, working on our Clear the Coast project on Northern Vancouver Island.

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