Misadventures with Marine Debris

By Surfrider Pacific Rim Chapter Manager Lilly Woodbury

Photos by Cristina Gareau

Remote shoreline cleanups, like most “wilderness” trips, can be easily romanticized, conjuring thoughts of sarongs, hammocks, a warm breeze and lighthearted laughter. Like most things, what we imagine is often vastly different than reality. The truth is, remote clean ups start weeks before departure in the preparation of the trip, with the mind hoola-hooping over every square inch of plans. For our crew, they also begin the day before, sharing waves at one of our local spots before heading out to brace the west coast elements. Despite our best efforts to strategize around the weather forecasts, once we are out on the sea, the fate of our journey is in the hands of the waves, wind, precipitation, and wildlife that we may encounter.

Surfrider Pacific Rim is a Chapter of Surfrider Foundation, which operates in Tofino and Ucluelet on the foggy west coast of Vancouver Island. Our focus is on eliminating single use plastics, implementing progressive recycling practices, and working with youth, businesses, individuals and government to take action on protecting and restoring our coasts and ocean. Remote clean ups are the most impactful clean ups we do, as we go to areas where few people frequent, where the debris can pile up for years before being found. Our local beach cleans are a great for engaging all kinds of folks, yet the surfaces have been scoured, leaving much less to collect. In our remote expeditions, our group covers locales in both Clayoquot and Barkley Sound, and we are never astounded by the beauty that we discover, and the amount of pollution for us to remove. These clean ups are also a mechanism to gain data on the types of debris we are finding, and to use our insights to inform our programs and campaigns which work to address the roots of plastic pollution.

You can’t unsee something once you’ve discovered it; being on these remote beaches changes the way you operate in daily life. After finding thousands of plastic water bottles and other single use plastics, you realize that how we live our lives and what we consume has a drastic impact on the planet. While crawling my way around the forest floor on one of the last remote trips, I scoured for water bottles that have been sewn to the earth with moss. I thought “imagine every person living on a coastline took place in a clean up, while eliminating single use plastics from their lives.” Our coastlines would be immensely cleaner, our pacific playground much healthier.

To create thriving oceans, we also need healthy terrestrial systems. A lot of marine debris is removed from the beach and then transported to another environment – the landfill. All of the marine debris Surfrider Pacific Rim collects is sorted and sent to The Ocean Legacy Foundation who recycle marine debris into new resources for companies including Lush Cosmetics. Diverting material from landfill into resources is paramount for the creation of a circular economy, proving even that ocean “waste” can be transformed from pollutant to valuable material.

Remote clean ups can be some of the best adventures of our work, but also have great capacity to provoke one’s grief for the state of our planet, which we all deal with on these trips at one point or another. At the end of our adventure, we leave our sites restored, the token of our work being our skin that has collected day’s worth of hot salt and earth, a soul full from being disconnected to technology and modernity, as well as another dimension added to one’s ecological lens for understanding the world and our influence upon it. Let us remember and get activated to protect the wonderful web of life, and once you surf, it’s also inevitable that you’ll want to become an ocean activist! So grab your board and head to the sea or grab your gloves and head to the beach and join the collective aim of achieving clean water and healthy beaches, working and playing to ensure that people all around the world can experience the magnificence of the oceans now and long hereafter!

Are you loving the summer vibes and wanting to give back to the place you play? Read below for some inspiration!

– Check out the FAQ section of Surfrider Pacific Rim’s website to download our beach clean guideline so that you can be ready to join or lead your own!

-Take 3 for the Sea! Groms in Tofino have joined this initiative, picking up 3 items of debris each time they leave the surf! This easy for any of us do to anytime we visit the beach!

– Say no to single use plastics including straws, bottles, cutlery, containers, coffee cups, bags, and ramekins. Start with one item and work your way to the others! You can remember to do this by bringing your reusable items when you go out to eat, and/or choosing to eat in. When you do this, let the business know that you do not support single use plastics!

-Launch a plastics campaign to help businesses eliminate single use plastics. Choose a plastic that is overused in your community, this could be straws, bags, bottles, which you would like to eradicate by a certain date. To learn how to run a plastics campaign, visit https://pacificrim.surfrider.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Straws-Suck-Campaign-Pack-1.pdf  HERE

-Join an organization that is working to eliminate plastics from your community! We are stronger when we unite our efforts, so contribute your passion to the existing momentum. With your organization, you can collectively work towards a single use plastic free community, which empowers members as environmental leaders.

Follow their activity at pacificrim.surfrider.org