The topic was a daunting one. Ocean pollution covers thousands of different contaminants coming from countless sources. But the topic was also a simple one: our waste and our lifestyle can be harmful to sea life. At an intensive two day workshop hosted by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, in partnership with the Georgia Strait Alliance, participants were challenged to develop creative and practical solutions that could reduce the release of harmful contaminants.
The workshop began with a welcome by Carleen Thomas of Tsleil-Waututh First Nation. She described the intricate relationship between her ancestors and the local waters around modern-day Vancouver. The ocean provides food, a sense of place, and a vital source of spiritual energy that continues to this day.
You can watch the opening remarks below:
The workshop then heard from five scientists. Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard introduced participants to the world of marine mammals and described the unique habitat needs of nine marine mammals threatened by pollution as documented under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Dr. Peter Ross spoke to the different types of pollutants of concern in our ocean, and how they impact marine mammals in British Columbia. Dr. Frank Gobas from Simon Fraser University delved into the world of chemicals and outlined the manner by which regulators in government scrutinize new and existing chemicals. Dr. Joel Baker from the Center for Urban Waters in Washington State described new chemistry techniques and instruments that can be used to uncover new pollutants in the ocean and track down where these different pollutants are coming from. Dr. Arne Mooers described the way in which the Species at Risk Act oversees the recovery of endangered species in Canada, including marine mammals.
Ocean pollution comes from many source sectors, including home and garden, urban, agro-forestry, industry, shipping and harbours. Experts from First Nations, industry, government, academia, and non-governmental organizations applied themselves in a practical, forward-looking manner, and explored new and existing ways to reduce or eliminate the release of a variety of contaminants from each sector. As participants developed solution ideas, they considered which contaminants present the biggest threat to marine mammals and their habitat.
The brainstorming sessions produced dozens of ideas that could reduce the release of harmful toxics into the ocean in the following ways:
- Government regulations and management
- Industry best practices
- Public engagement
Five in-depth, achievable, and meaningful ideas were designed in greater detail:
- Ocean-friendly furnishings: Recognizing that furniture typically contains a variety of chemicals, including persistent flame retardants found in killer whales, participants are looking to a private sector group to consider ocean pollution in the design, manufacture and use of home and office furniture.
- Blue fuelling initiative: With thousands of small-scale spills and leaks introducing hydrocarbons into the marine environment every year, participants are looking to both the private and non-governmental sectors to adopt new technologies and practices that reduce the risk of spills while fuelling vessels.
- Drug-free oceans: With hundreds of pharmaceuticals and personal care products being discharged through sewage effluent into rivers, lakes and coastal waters, participants are looking for new, standardized product labels that enable consumers to make ocean-friendly choices when purchasing such products.
- Local Ocean Network: With ocean pollution being everybody’s business, a new multi-party forum is needed to provide leadership on ocean pollution issues and provide effective guidance on updating pollution regulations and determining action levels.
- Ocean Pollution Solutions Curriculum: With everyone connected to the ocean, revamped and refocused outreach and education curricula were recognized as logical and much-needed steps that will help sustain healthy oceans for future generations.
While ideas were abundant, it became clear to participants that the ocean is closer than most people think. Every time one flushes a toilet, rinses cleaning products down the sink, uses pesticides in the garden, or drives a car, contaminants end up wandering downstream through sanitation sewers, storm sewers, and runoff. Ultimately, the ocean bears the brunt of our collective activities on land.
The solution begins now, and it begins with you. What will you do?
Special thanks to the ocean pollution solutions organizing team: Karen Gordon and Christianne Wilhelmson (Georgia Strait Alliance), Juan Jose Alava, Carmen Morales and Peter Ross (Ocean Pollution Research Program, Vancouver Aquarium), and Wenhui Gao (Dalhousie University).