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Truckloads of styrofoam removed from Somass Estuary during Easter cleanup

Volunteers with Ocean Friendly Port Alberni organized the ‘hunt’

Volunteers with Ocean Friendly Port Alberni held a special kind of “hunt” on Saturday, March 30, but the only thing they came back with was Styrofoam—truckloads of it.

A group of almost two dozen volunteers walked into the Somass Estuary area and spent a few hours collecting debris in the sunshine, getting muddy and contributing to The Great Canadian Shoreline data collection on marine debris, spokesperson Gail Morton said. They called this event ‘Easter at the Estuary.’

“We had collected 3,435 items in approximately three and a half hours,” Morton said. In addition to 2,414 Styrofoam pieces, volunteers also collected other items such as 172 hard plastic pieces, 63 plastic shopping bags, 31 plastic bottles, 54 plastic food wrappers, 24 toys, 17 hard plastic oil jugs and 12 cigarette butts (collected on the beach, not in the mud). “And 47 shoes. That’s a common one. And none of them match.”

Even the Easter Bunny made a muddy appearance. “One of the volunteers found a stuffed bunny in the mud at the estuary.”

One huge difference between this cleanup and one that the group conducted in 2021 was evident when they sorted all the plastics. “In 2021, when we did the first survey, there were hundreds of tampon applicators, the coloured ones. This time there were very few—five.”

The OFPA’s 2024 data collection shows a need for more focused collection of Styrofoam, Morton said, “as 84.8 percent of the March 30 debris was Styrofoam.” That percentage is more than 10 percent higher than in 2021, when the group’s efforts yielded 73.3 percent of Styrofoam in collected debris.

“Styrofoam blocks are ideal for dock flotation, but will inevitably break down into tiny pieces which may be mistaken for food by marine life,” Morton said. “As these microplastics are not digestible, they can end up starving wildlife or becoming part of the food chain, ending with humans. Research is showing human health problems resulting from plastic ingestion.”

With Canadian manufactured alternatives readily available, Surfrider Canada advocates for a complete ban on EPS or Styrofoam blocks in aquatic applications, she added.

“To truly tackle the harm done by Styrofoam blocks in inlets and oceans, we need legislation. Surfrider Canada provides a link for Canadian residents to sign a petition to ban EPS for marine applications. Or, you can contact OFPA to sign the petition.”

Veteran members Jim Wright, Judy Carlson, Dave and Gail Morton led the cleanup for the OFPA. Many of the new volunteers signed up at a OFPA table at Seedy Saturday last month.

Wright took all the debris collected to the landfill. “The ACRD always gives us a tipping fee waiver,” Morton said, and John Stephen from the City of Port Alberni helped make the cleanup possible by giving the group access to the site, which is behind a locked gate.