ust over a dozen people gathered in front of the Ogden Breakwater on the morning of Sept. 28 for the 20th annual Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, hosted by Victoria MP Murray Rankin. Coffee and doughnuts were provided to help everyone shake the chill from the rain. Two local experts were on hand to help out. Richard Kool, an associate professor in Royal Roads University’s Environment and Sustainability program, and Dr. Gerald Graham, marine oil spill expert. The volunteers moved their way around the beaches beside the breakwater, litter-picking claws and garbage bags in hand, ridding the shoreline of the many cigarette butts, bottle caps, pieces of plastic, and other debris, for a little over two hours.
The first Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup launched in Vancouver, in 1994, on a stretch of beach in Stanley Park. In 2002, it became a national program, and in 2012 the number of volunteers reached over 57 000. There were 1 815 shore sites registered in the cleanup in 2012 and over 3 000 kilometres of shoreline was cleaned.
Graham comes to shoreline cleanup with some unique expertise. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill, nations around the world tightened up their oil-spill response. Areas that saw oil tanker traffic hired and trained people to lead oil spill cleanups at that time. Graham was one of those people.
On the morning of the shoreline cleanup, participants observed a tanker cutting its way through the bay near the breakwater. Graham told the crowd it was called the “Champion Trader,” and was on its way to Vancouver. “There are about 50 of these a year that come out of Vancouver,” said Graham,“ and if Kinder Morgan gets its way, there will be about seven times that in about five years time.” Logically, with more traffic of tankers there is greater risk of a tanker oil spill. Graham could not stress enough the immediate importance of scaling up oil spill prevention and emergency response. Thankfully, the only thing the volunteers were cleaning on the shorelines that day was garbage.
This year’s cleanup gathered a large amount of debris. The biggest item found was a legless office chair. Other noteworthy items included a pair of sunglasses, trim from a car door, and an unopened can of hard cider. Plenty of recyclables were found, but the single most prevalent item of garbage was the cigarette butt.
Most people know that six-pack rings can tangle up certain species of fish, as well as coastal species of birds; however, shoreline waste has a greater impact than that. Turtles often eat plastic bags because they look like a jellyfish (a turtle’s favourite meal). Other aquatic animals will eat plastic pellets, or broken plastic debris. Inability to digest the plastic causes the animal to feel full, which ultimately leads to death. Broken glass and other sharp debris can lay hidden in sand and cut a beach-goer’s foot. The bottom line is that shoreline garbage is unsanitary and unsightly.
Jensen Edwards, a philosophy student at UVic, was one of this year’s local cleanup participants. “If every time you go to the beach, you just pick up something, then you don’t have to have a save-our-shores day,” he said. “It’s still a great idea,” he added, “a good way to spend a Saturday morning.” The other participants included people who live near the beach and self-proclaimed recycling freaks. Murray Rankin and his staff took all the garbage gathered to the reFUSE recycling centre located on Government Street, where it was properly disposed of. Any money collected from recycling was donated to unnamed environmental charities.