The waters along the west coast of Vancouver Island are beautiful, especially on a sun-filled day like it was Monday, but they also hide what some people would say is an environmental disaster that’s been unfolding for decades.
Susanna Lawson has lived near Tofino for 50 years.
“You used to just see glass balls and that sort of thing and then in the 70’s all this plastic just started creating a toxic hazard.” said Lawson.
She was talking about ocean plastics and polystyrene that comes in by the tonne up and down the coast with every new tide.
“It’s just become a garbage dump,” she added.
Josh Temple is a former commercial fisherman, and admittedly the furthest thing from an environmentalist, but after noticing how much plastic comes ashore every day he founded Clayoquot CleanUp two years ago.
On Monday he was with a group of volunteers on Vargas Island picking up plastic garbage by the sackful.
“Predominately we deal with a tremendous amount of polystyrene and polyethylene foam, single-use beverage containers, products from aquaculture and marine-related industries like commercial fishing and a tremendous amount of just domestic trash too that finds its way into the ocean,” said Temple.
He says the beach was cleaned just 9 months ago and already there are more toxic pollutants, adding he’s seen a two-fold increase in the pollution in the last year.
Surprisingly it’s not just found on the beach.
“We are hundreds of feet away from the beach, hundreds of feet way back from the beach and you can see how far the stuff gets pushed into the forest,” he said as he trudged deep past the treeline.
“Yeah absolutely shocked, you know you don?t see it just on this beautiful beach but two steps into the forest and that?s where you really start to see it.” said clean up volunteer Ryan Millar.
Winter storms and high tides push the debris deep past the treeline into the forest.
Local Member of Parliament for Courtenay-Alberni Gord Johns has been hounding the Liberal government for a national strategy on ocean plastics.
The federal minister of environment Catherine McKenna was supposed to take part in the cleanup Monday and make an announcement but had to cancel at the last minute.
There’s been no word on what the announcement was, but Josh Temple has his own ideas on what needs to be done.
“One of the things were really pushing for is to call on the Canadian government and all governments around the world to ban some of these toxic pollutants from use in the marine environment. There are several better options than polystyrene, polyethylene and all of these plastic that you see that are widely being used in marine applications,” he said.
“We need to put a ban on the stuff from ever being used in the marine environment again. That?s step one. Step two is to create legislation to hold these industries and to hold the manufacturers of these toxic pollutants accountable for the efforts that we?re all doing to clean up their mess behind them.”.