West Coast beaches are covered with little creatures so beachgoers need to be careful about where they step.

Tourists encouraged to be better beachgoers in Tofino and Ucluelet

Ucluelet Aquarium launches educational program to teach visitors how to behave on local shorelines.

A new initiative has been launched to help those who aren’t from here take care of here while they are here.

The Ucluelet Aquarium hopes to slow the proliferation of plastics and other waste materials covering West Coast  beaches through an educational campaign dubbed ‘Be a Better Beachgoer.’

“There are a lot of really simple messages that seem like common sense to us as West Coast residents because we deal with this all the time and we can see the effects directly, but we get over a million visitors a year to the West Coast and many of those are visiting here for the first time,” said aquarium curator Laura Griffith-Cochrane.

“They don’t see those direct effects and they may not be aware of how they’re affecting the ecosystem so we’re going to start small with really simple messages; really good things you can do to be better when you’re on the beach.”

The campaign includes pamphlets and posters available at local resorts, visitor centres and online that provide messaging around reducing litter, cutting down on single-use plastics and stepping carefully around marine life like barnacles and anemones.

“Our waste, our garbage and our recycling all needs to come back with us after we leave the beach,” said aquarium staffer Keltie Minton.

“It’s also important to watch your step when you’re walking in the intertidal zone. There’s barnacles and anemones and all sorts of little creatures that we are stepping on so we need to be gentle when we’re exploring along the rocks.”

Cigarette smokers are urged to carry containers to store their butts in rather than tossing them in the sand.

Griffith-Cochrane added visitors are being asked to leave anything they find on the beach, on the beach.

“Leave things where they are,” she said. “If you find a shell on the beach, as that shell breaks down, it provides calcium for the next generation of cockles and clams and mussels and sand dollars.”

Single use plastics are being frowned upon throughout the West Coast and Minton said Canadians use an average of 2.86 billion plastic bags a year.

“If everybody in town suddenly started choosing to use reusable bags and water bottles, and if we encouraged every tourist to think about it and instead of getting a huge bin of 24 individual water bottles they bought one big bottle and kept reusing it, I think that would make an impact,” Minton said.

Griffith-Cochrane said the aquarium has not yet talked to local stores about nixing single-use plastics but that conversation could be on the horizon.

“We’d love to, but, we’re going to start small,” she said. “We have to start with creating good habits and then we have to look at what our goal is as a community.”

She said reducing plastics is key for both the ocean’s health as well as our own.

“There’s a lot of studies right now that are looking into microplastics and how they’re affecting not just the health of the ecosystem but can also affect our health because it can bioaccumulate and get into our own food systems,” she said adding plastics never fully break down but, rather, become smaller and smaller pieces that can wreak havoc.

“They can become so small they can enter cells…A lot of them have chemicals that can mimic our biological systems so there’s pseudo estrogens that come with plastics that can create really nasty results in humans.”

She said larger plastics can be mistaken for prey.

“They become really risky to a lot of things because they look just like food,” she said.

“If you’re a sea turtle that eats jellyfish and you see this plastic bag floating in the ocean, it really doesn’t matter if its biodegradable or not, it’s going to get into your throat and you’ll choke and die.”

She added many animals have washed up in the past few years with digestive tracts full of plastic.

“If we reduce all of these single-use items that we’ve gotten really used to using, we can really quickly and easily benefit the ecosystem around us and that has significant benefits to us as ocean people that like to fish and like to harvest,” she said.

“The healthier we can keep the ocean, the more we can depend on it.”

The aquarium is hosting Dock Talks every Saturday at Ucluelet’s Whiskey Dock and has a slew of free programming going on throughout the season. Check out its Facebook page or website, www.uclueletaquarium.org, for more information.