2015: A year in review

A blog post by Rachel McGovern

Volunteer-based Surfrider Foundation Vancouver kept busy in 2015 with a number of campaigns including: Protect Where You Play, Rise Above Plastics, Ban the Bead, and Hold onto Your Butt.  Of these specialized and worthy campaigns, Surfrider is probably most well-known for its beach cleanups, which fall under the umbrella of Rise Above Plastics and Protect Where You Play.  In 2015, the Vancouver chapter hosted 12 successful beach cleanups.  In addition, the Ban the Bead campaign picked up a lot of momentum leading to government action and an investigation into microbeads led by Environment Canada.  2015 also marked the growth of the Hold onto Your Butts campaign in Vancouver, focused on reducing cigarette butt litter by raising awareness.  In fact, #holdontoyourbutt will be brought to the forefront this month, stay tuned.

Beach Cleanups

Surfrider Foundation Vancouver has had great success in organizing volunteers for beach cleanups, and 2015 was no exception. As you may know, the Surfrider team has been hosting monthly local beach cleanups, inviting volunteers to grab a bucket, grab a garbage picker-upper and join them at a designated Vancouver beach to pick up garbage strewn about, whether by human, animal or tide.

At each Surfrider beach cleanup, a research team of volunteers collect data about the garbage found on Vancouver beaches.  In 2015, the research team collected, sorted, counted and weighed 31 pounds of garbage during these beach cleanups.  But, why go through all the trouble of sorting and counting all of that garbage?  

Click on the image to see an interactive map that shows how much garbage we've collected from these local beaches!

Click on the image to see an interactive map that shows how much garbage we've collected from these local beaches!

Cleanup Research: The Technical Stuff, If You’re Curious

The research team starts by marking a dedicated area to use as a representative sample of the beach.  The garbage collected in this area can be used to make general conclusions about the garbage found on the entire beach, even if the entire beach wasn’t cleaned.  Using GPS coordinates and a measuring tape the research team focuses on a 100m stretch of “tidal zone”, that is the area of the beach found underwater at high tide and exposed during low tide.  

This tidal zone is where debris floating in the ocean is deposited on the beach and where litter can be picked up and swept into the ocean, all by the moving tide.  

The garbage collected in this section of beach is sorted into categories based on the material they are made of and then counted and weighed.  This process enables Surfrider Vancouver to make inferences about the amount and types of garbage being deposited on the beaches.  This information can then be used to help support campaigns, or when approaching municipalities, or when raising awareness to a specific local problem like cigarette butt accumulation on beaches.  

For the record, the methods used for data collection are standardized research procedures maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an American scientific agency.

76% of that garbage consisted of cigarette butts & plastic! 

Styrofoam, metal and wood/paper products accounted for an additional 18% of garbage collected in 2015.

Though an impressive amount of garbage, this does not include all of the garbage collected by volunteers at the 2015 beach cleanups.  In fact, volunteers collected buckets full of garbage at each cleanup!  These numbers only represent the research sample collected, however, it does reflect the distribution of garbage types collected from Vancouver  beaches.  The most prevalent types of garbage collected have consistently been cigarette butts and plastics!  Coincidentally, of the most dangerous types of garbage for marine wildlife.

During the course of the 2015 calendar year, specific plastic items were consistently collected. These items included: bottle caps and other hard plastics, food film and wrappers, as well as straws.  During the summer months, particularly July, there was an increased number of cigarette butts, plastic cups, plastic utensils and plastic take-out containers collected at local beaches, as one might have predicted.  The amount of garbage collected did not vary greatly from month-to-month, with the exception of January and July, which accounted for 31% and 21% of the total amount of garbage collected for analysis in 2015, respectively.

TELUS World of Science

After collecting all of this great data, it was time to spread the knowledge. A set of infographics about pollution on local beaches designed by Yee Tonrungroj spent the entire summer on display at the TELUS World of science. Also, a few of our volunteers led an interactive exhibition that imitated the research protocol. Children were asked to use pickers in order to retrieve colorful blocks from a sandpit, then tally and weigh them. This served as a kindle for dialogue regarding pollution in Vancouver and what we can do about it, no matter our age.


Hold on to Your Butt (#holdontoyourbutt)

Given the number of cigarette butts collected at each beach, all year long, the Hold on to Your Butt campaign (#holdontoyourbutt) is gaining momentum. It even caught the attention of CBC, which followed with a TV interview with Nataliya Volikhovska, the Surfrider Vancouver secretary and campaign lead. I am happy to report, the number of cigarette butts collected in 2015 was only 40% of what it was in 2014!

Ban the Bead  (#banthebead)

Ban the Bead is a campaign launched by Surfrider Vancouver in June 2014, targeting the use of microbeads in home and personal care cleaning products, including toothpaste, facial scrubs, laundry detergents and dish detergents.  Microbeads are small plastic beads often described as being “exfoliants” and said to improve their cleaning power of these products.  The use of microbeads in these products is unnecessary.  Besides, there are many natural, non-plastic exfoliants like ground nut shells, oatmeal, coffee grounds and even baking soda.

Microbeads measure less than 1mm in diameter, and due to their size they are a particularly dangerous plastic as they easily pass through filtration systems used in wastewater management.  As such, these tiny plastic beads are being deposited in waterways and bodies of water across Canada.  Even more daunting is the fact that the plastic used in these beads is projected to last more than 10,000 years! 

Photo taken from:  “Microbeads a macro problem says Vancouver environmental group”, CBC News.  Accessed online March 27,   2016. 

Photo taken from:  “Microbeads a macro problem says Vancouver environmental group”, CBC News.  Accessed online March 27,   2016. 

The major issue is the entry of these microbeads into the food chain!  Small water-dwelling animals surviving on small, organic particulate in the water easily confuse microbeads as food. This poses a serious health threat to all animals in the foodchain, from some of the smallest organisms to humans. 

2015 was a momentous year for the Ban the Bead campaign.  In February, the federal NDP proposed that microbeads be considered toxic, and on March 24, the House of Commons unanimously passed a resolution to add microbeads to Canada’s list of Toxic Substances.  In addition, Environment Canada was mandated to complete a review on microbeads, a review that is in its final stages.  Here is a link to their findings posted in July. In the remaining months of 2015 and into early 2016, Surfrider encouraged the general public to contact their MPs and bring to parliament their views on banning the microbead.  In early 2016, Surfrider made the news again when Surfrider Vancouver Chair, Matthew Unger, was interviewed by CBC and The Province newspaper to talk about Ban the Bead. 

Thanks to our efforts, 609 concerned citizens and Surfrider Volunteers sent their letters to urge Environment Canada to ban the bead!

Thanks to our efforts, 609 concerned citizens and Surfrider Volunteers sent their letters to urge Environment Canada to ban the bead!

Other news from 2015

We are quickly approaching the one-year anniversary of the grievous English Bay Oil Spill, which occurred in April of 2015.  A matter of days after, Surfrider Vancouver partnered with the Kitsilano Yacht Club to facilitate a public information session with local government and the spill response teams.

The spill was of bunker fuel, which is highly toxic to humans, animals and plants.  A number of shortcomings in the oil spill response were identified, and members of Surfrider Vancouver called on Environment Canada and the BC Ministry of Environment to use this incident as a “fire drill” with hopes of improvement for the future in both response to the spill and communication with the public.

Despite the spill, a cleanup for the month of April was hosted, however, volunteers were not allowed on the beach for health and safety reasons.  Instead, the cleanup was directed to the park area at Kitsilano Beach.

So, as you can see 2015 was a very busy year!  Surfrider Vancouver is working hard to keep Vancouver beaches and water clean for the safety and enjoyment of all. Join us again this year! Like our Facebook Page, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and be sure to check EventBrite for upcoming beach cleanups and other ways to become involved.