As we paddle our canoes, kayaks and paddle boards by Harbour Quay on a sunny, blue-sky morning in June, folks enjoying the sunshine on Centennial Pier shout out a friendly hello.
“Are you going on a trip?” they ask.
“No,” we reply. “We’re cleaning up the Inlet.”
We were paddling to collect inlet debris as a partnership between Transition Town Alberni, the Alberni Aquarium, Alberni Climate Action, and as part of the Ocean Friendly Mentorship Program conducted by Lilly Woodbury of Surfrider Tofino. Port Alberni and Telegraph Cove are the two communities that have received pilot mentorship programs by Surfrider this year.
The city paid for debris pickup, the ACRD waived landfill tipping fees and Wade Nicklin provided a free garbage bin with pickup and delivery to recycling. Plus our gracious sponsors Twin City Brewery and Sproat Landing who donated prizes for the event.
A varied demographic, ranging in age from 18 to more than 70 years old, made their way to the Somass Estuary, where debris collects and chokes the life out of what was once a pristine, world-class salmon nursery. It was a fun 20-minute paddle with seals popping up right beside us with their large-eyed curiosity.
We spied debris stuck in the arms of bushes and hiding behind other plants of the estuary. We were appalled by the amount of garbage, but quickly focussed on the hunt. Who can find the biggest piece of styrofoam, the most stuff?
Canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards laden with trash, we proudly headed back to the small ramp behind Port Boat House where another group of volunteers waited to sort and count our “treasures.” Each piece was entered into a Marine Debris Tracker app, for the purpose of adding to a global database.
What we found was both astonishing and disturbing. The majority of culprits were styrofoam, plastic bottles, canned drink containers, food wrappers, plastic and foil wrappers, tampon applicators, fishing nets, floats, COVID-related PPE and tons of fragmented plastic pieces. An estimated total of 1,558 items was entered into the tracker.
Next, people from the on-land part of our cleanup arrived to drop off more items. There was enough debris to host a garage sale. It was mostly plastic. Critters in the inlets, ocean, and rivers are unknowingly devouring plastic, which moves up the food chain to humans. Plastic is in the guts of the seafood we eat and in the air we breathe.
So we challenge our whole community: Do we have the guts to say no to the plastics we don’t need, to find alternatives? I think we do. And obviously we can have fun doing it.
We have hosted two Ocean Friendly Cleanup days so far this year. Please consider joining us next time on Saturday, Aug. 7. Email email@example.com for more info. You can also follow our Facebook page called Ocean Friendly Port Alberni.
Gail Morton is a volunteer with the Alberni Aquarium and Stewardship Centre.