“Marine debris does not belong in in any natural environment for it not only spoils the beauty of our coastlines, but it also kills marine life,” says Lucy Wilkie, Port Williams, one of 40 youth leaders from across Canada involved in the Ocean Bridge program connecting young people across the country to improve ocean literacy and volunteerism.
Ocean plastics in general are one of the biggest problems, she says. Plastics are all too often mistaken by marine life as food - animals can starve to death with a stomach full of plastic or choke on a bit of debris that gets caught in their throat. Microplastics (plastic less than five millimetres in diameter, either pre-made or created from the break up of larger plastics) can be consumed by smaller sea creatures and travel up the food chain. Even worse, these plastics leach harmful chemicals. Entanglement with marine debris can cause anything for marine life from minor discomfort to totally restricted movement, says Wilkie.
To help counteract this problem, Wilkie is organizing two local public shoreline cleanups. The first is happening at Scott’s Bay, Aug. 4 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and the second is at Huntington Point, just past Halls Harbour, on Aug. 21 from 12-3 p.m.
“From my experience,” says Wilkie, “these are two local beaches that consistently have a lot of marine debris washed up on their shores. Why that is, I unfortunately don't know.”
Wilkie has led a couple smaller cleanups at Huntington Point and participated in some around Halifax for Oceans Week in Halifax, including a kayak cleanup. She also helped plan two large scale cleanups that the Ocean Bridge team conducted in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, where over 2,200 pounds of marine debris was collected.
Wilkie says she’s always surprised with what is found washed ashore. During the Haida Gwaii cleanups, Wilkie says participants found a lot of Japanese debris that was swept out to sea in the 2011 tsunami and travelled across the Pacific to the shores of British Columbia.
“An Ocean Bridge cohort member even found the flexible plastic part of a car window shield with shards of glass still attached to it,” she says.
Wilkie says the best way to keep the shorelines clean is by first having discussions about it and by raising awareness by talking about the marine debris issue with family, friends, colleagues or anyone who will listen.
There's a lot that can be done to reduce plastic, particularly single-use plastic, in our day to day lives, she added. From using reusable produce bags to investing in more sustainable period products to carrying an alternative to plastic straws, bags, cutlery and more, there are many relatively accessible ways to refuse excessive plastic waste. And, when visiting a beach, Wilkie suggests picking up any trash that’s around. Even better, organize a shoreline cleanup.
For the shoreline cleanups on Aug. 4 and 21, Wilkie will be supplying bags and gloves, but recommends bringing your own if you have them. Thanks to a Rising Youth grant, a TakingItGlobal project also funded by Canada Service Corps, Wilkie will also be providing snacks for participants.
“Drop in anytime,” says Wilkie. “I'll be collecting marine debris around the meeting point for both cleanups so I'll be available to greet people who show up later and run them through the logistics.”
Humans need to shoulder the burden of the plastic problem, she adds. Marine debris is spoiling the earth’s natural beauty, killing ocean life, and even ending up on our dinner plates in the form of traces of plastic in seafood, and she’s hoping Kings County residents will come out and do their part.