Volunteers load the first semi at French Creek in 2018’s beach clean efforts. (Photo courtesy of Donald Gordon)

Island residents team up on beach cleanups, call for government regulation

‘It’s way beyond what we can deal with’: Lasqueti, Texada, Denman islanders

A group of Lasqueti Island residents have been battling the marine debris washing up on their shores for three years – and volunteer Donald Gordon says the problem is only getting worse.

Gordon says a large majority of what washes up on Lasqueti’s shores is commercial marine debris, mostly unencased polystyrene foam (most commonly known by its brand name, Styrofoam).

“The quantity of stuff is just so massive, it’s way beyond what we can deal with,” said Gordon. “It’s going through the roof. The last 10 years, it’s spread. You go to the high tide line anywhere on a beach, and mixed in with the seaweed is Styrofoam balls.”

This year’s beach clean on Lasqueti starts today (July 23).

Volunteers will clean up the beaches using herring skiffs and boats owned by island locals, and barge the trash over to French Creek, where it’s then loaded onto semi-trucks and taken to Vancouver to be recycled.

That’s how it’s gone for the past three years. This year, though, Gordon wants to make a bit more noise on the way.

The group is weighing whether or not they want to stop by the Legislature in Victoria for a photo-op on their way to Vancouver.

Gordon says allowing commercial marine operations to use polystyrene not encased in a protective barrier is an environmental disaster, and wants to see provincial or federal government legislature to regulate its use.

“It breaks up, washes into any exposed bay, and then breaks up against the rocks into a gazillion little tiny Styrofoam balls. Which then get consumed by birds and forage fish, you name it. Everything mistakes it for food, because it looks like a little fish egg. It’s a huge problem, and neither the province nor the feds are regulating its use,” said Gordon.

Gordon believes that regulation of commercial marine polystyrene would be an achievable and effective step towards cutting down on beach trash.

“When it’s marinas that are using huge blocks of unencased Styrofoam, and aquaculture, which is using these massive blocks – 10-foot-by-four-foot blocks of Styrofoam, which they call billets – you’re actually talking about very few actual sources of this stuff in comparison to consumer waste which is actually really hard to deal with,” said Gordon.

READ MORE: Likely first targets of plastics ban? Styrofoam takeout boxes and straws

“We really regard this as something where regulation could be really effective, and neither the feds nor the province are stepping up – yet – to do anything about this,” said Gordon.

Lasqueti is not alone in this battle, and Gordon says their group of concerned islanders has now joined forces with residents of Texada and Denman islands.

“We have a huge number of volunteers who come out, and the situation is just getting worse every year,” said Gordon. “We’re getting deluged.”

The group has yet to coalesce under a larger umbrella organization. For now, they’re just a group of concerned citizens united by a common cause.

“It’s a pretty compelling effort. Lots of people come out of the woodwork. They may not be involved in anything else, but they totally get this, that we’ve got to do something about this,” said Gordon.

The NEWS reached out to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy for comment.

The ministry says they are aware of polystyrene foam as a common beach pollutant, and are working on solutions that would combat marine debris.

Sheila Malcolmson, MLA for Nanaimo, works as the ministry’s special advisor on marine debris protection, and is touring the coast to meet with First Nations, local governments and community groups.

The Ministry is open to input from those parties to help find solutions to marine debris.

“As part of MLA Malcolmson’s work, ministry staff are looking at ideas to mitigate the problem such as ways to improve best management practices for dock construction, maintenance and recycling. Ministry staff are also gathering information and ideas regarding polystyrene foam and other plastics recycling opportunities,” said the ministry in a statement.

For more information on the province’s current actions on marine debris, visit: gov.bc.ca/MarineDebrisProtection.

Anyone looking to get involved with the beach clean can send an email to styrofoampollution@gmail.com.

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(Photo courtesy of Donald Gordon)

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