A group of Vancouver Aquarium explorers, led by our president and CEO, John Nightingale, has just returned from Haida Gwaii where they found significant increases in marine debris on the West coast of Morsby (the southern) Island.

Discussions with area residents, Haida Watchmen and others who frequently travel in the area corroborated the dramatic increase in floating marine debris – much of it is plastic. Whether this increase in debris comes from the debris field making its way across the Pacific following the tsunami in Japan is not completely certain, but the timing and composition of the debris means much of it likely came from land-based sources.

Each year, the Vancouver Aquarium organizes trips for people to explore unique parts of the world as part of our mission to better understand nature. This year’s Travel Program was to Haida Gwaii and included nine days in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve aboard the cruising sailboat, the Island Roamer (Bluewater Adventures). The trip included a visit to the Anthony Island area in the very southern part of the island archipelago, an area which faces the open North Pacific Ocean.

During this part of the trip, Dr. Nightingale, the 13 guests and Island Roamer crew of two conducted a Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, presented by Loblaw Companies Limited, of Bowles Beach on Kunghit Island, which also faces the open Pacific Ocean. The beach was littered with marine debris consisting mostly of plastics. The 100-meter long beach was cleaned by the group, which then transported the bagged debris to the Parks Canada station on Ellen Island for disposal. We’d like to thank Parks Canada for their assistance in this first clean-up of 2012.

Dr Nightingale noted that during our three days in the area facing the open Pacific, we observed plainly obvious amounts of floating plastic debris, noticeably more than we had seen on the East or Hecate Strait side of Haida Gwaii. Floating pieces of foam of all types could be seen with the naked eye floating around the Island Roamer. In addition, all of the beaches we visited had plainly visible debris items, something not found in previous visits.

These observations were corroborated by Island Roamer captain, Neil Shearar, who has piloted vessels in the North Pacific for over 20 years, and in Haida Gwaii for 14. Captain Shearar said: “I haven’t seen this much floating stuff… ever.” Haida Watchman, Walter Russ, at the Skedans ancient Haida village site, also remarked on the dramatic increase in floating plastic debris. Rose Harbour resident Tassilo Gotz (Rose Harbour Guest House) said he too is seeing noticeable and large increases in the amount of floating debris, much of which appears to be Styrofoam or other types of foam-based material. Some blocks of foam were as large as a garbage can, while others had been broken down to small –pea-sized– individual pieces of Styrofoam or other foam products.

In cleaning up Bowles Beach, the debris consisted of small amounts of expected and normally found rope, floats and pieces of net from the fishing industry in the North Pacific.  What was unexpected was the very large pile of foam-based debris, some of which look like partial sheets of foam building insulation. We also found hundreds of beverage bottles, which could also have been washed into the ocean from land during the tsunami. A survey of over 100 plastic beverage bottles that contained any identification showed most to have Japanese characters.

The Island Roamer along with Goez and others will monitor Bowles Beach during the rest of this summer, and again in 2013.  Because this small “pocket” beach was completely cleaned, it will provide a good measure for incoming new debris.

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4 Responses

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Thanks Keren for your comment. Responsibly recycling appropriate items is very important, and is part of our green commitment, especially within the Aquarium and through the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (ShorelineCleanup.ca). Thanks for sharing!

  1. Linda Clements

    My husband and our extended family have been busy picking up debris on the east coast of Haida Gwaii also. What we have found seems to be foam from the lining of ship’s hull. Being commercial fishermen we recognize this stuff as it has shapes on it. The trolling season is opening up on the 21st of June and it will be very interesting to see what is out there floating. I supposed my biggest fear is drift nets and other types of nets from Japan will be just under the water where it can`t be seen causing problems with our propellors or our gear or actually hitting something under the water that is party submerged. I am going to keep a diary on what we see and where but we don`t often get to the shore as we are working.
    Anyway that`s my feedback.

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Thanks for your post, Linda. It sounds like you’re very familiar with the dangers of marine debris and its negative impact on marine life. You might be interested in learning more about the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, a joint collaboration between the Aquarium and WWF to clean up our shorelines this Sept. 15-23. To learn more, you can visit ShorelineCleanup.ca. Kudos to you for being part of the solution and helping to clean up ocean debris!


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