Ucluelet Secondary School's Nuu-Chah-Nulth class helped Surfrider volunteers clean Big Beach on Monday. From left

Ucluelet Secondary School's Nuu-Chah-Nulth class helped Surfrider volunteers clean Big Beach on Monday. From left

Surfrider Pacific Rim launches into 2017

“I don’t think an actual campaign or education around cigarette pollution has really been prominent in Ucluelet or Tofino.”

Not everyone cares about keeping the West Coast clean, which means its up to volunteers to keep local shores pristine.

After riding a swell of support last year, Surfrider Pacific Rim is ready to rip into 2017.

“Surfrider has built a network of coastal defenders who transform a passion for our coast into a lasting protection,” said chapter-president Michelle Hall during a recent presentation to Tofino’s municipal council.

“We’re fortunate to live in a place where passion for protection is in our blood and we’re a community of guardians including First Nations, environmentalists, scientists as well as ocean lovers, surfers, beach walkers and dog lovers.”

She said the foundation laid solid groundwork in 2016 by raising awareness of its initiatives and engaging with the community.

“We’re really inclusive to everyone and volunteers really enjoy the citizen feel of our organization,” she said.

“Our voice is always positive and we’re always sharing solutions.”

She added the foundation holds a public meet up at Tofino Brewing Company on the first Wednesday of every month.

“We have a solid crew of 21 amazing people in Tofino and Ucluelet,” she said. “It’s a really good way for new people coming to Tofino and Ucluelet to get involved with their community.”

The foundation welcomed over 250 volunteers to 24 beach cleanups in 2016, according to Hall, who said the five most commonly found pollutants were plastics, styrofoam, cigarette butts, fishing gear and recyclables.

“In 2016 we collected almost 5,000 kilograms of marine debris from our pristine coastline,” she said.

The local Surfrider crew earned huge accolades and widespread media attention with its Straws Suck campaign last year that saw 41 local businesses nix single-use straws from their operations and brought  increased awareness around plastic pollution.

Hall said three major campaigns are in the works for 2017: an Ocean Friendly Business, Bring your own Bag and Hold onto your Butt.

“The Ocean Friendly Business Campaign will invite all businesses in the Pacific Rim to reduce and eliminate single use plastics,” she said adding straws will continue to be targeted along with shopping bags, single-use cutlery and take-away packaging.

“We are working on grants and sponsorships to launch this program.”

She said the Ban the Bag campaign will promote the use of re-useable shopping bags and will include a bag-making challenge supported by Tourism Tofino that will test whether or not the West Coast can create 1,000 bags in time for the Pacific Rim Whale Festival in March.

The Hang onto Your Butt campaign is aimed at eliminating cigarette pollution and features a unique partnership with TerraCycle, an organization that offers a variety of environmentally-minded programming including a Cigarette Waste Recycling Program.

“The waste collected through the Cigarette Waste Recycling Program is recycled into a variety of industrial products, such as plastic pallets, and any remaining tobacco is recycled as compost,” according to TerraCycle’s website.

Hall said Surfrider’s anti-cigarette waste program would help raise awareness of the impacts butts have locally.

“A big part of the campaign is education. I don’t think an actual campaign or education around cigarette pollution has really been prominent in Ucluelet or Tofino,” she said.

During her presentation in Tofino, Hall said Surfrider partnered with Ucluelet to install nine cigarette butt canisters throughout the community. She said Ucluelet’s public works crew empties the canisters and hands the butts off to Surfrider to recycle.

“We hope that Tofino would do the same,” she said. “This wouldn’t just be a case of installing them and letting you guys empty them and that’s it, we plan on engaging the youth and doing lots of education at all of our beach cleanups and events throughout the year.”

The canisters cost $100 each, according to Hall, and Tofino’s council agreed to buy one for their municipal hall immediately after Hall’s presentation.

Coun. Greg Blanchette expressed admiration for the foundation’s quick rise.

“Surfrider is really surging ahead in terms of volunteer engagement, community engagement and business engagement, in a way that, in my experience on the Coast, is basically unprecedented,” he said. “Congratulations on all of your successes.”

Mayor Josie Osborne agreed.

“I want to say thank you and really commend you, Michelle, for your leadership and Surfrider for everything that you do,” she said. “You really have gone above and beyond in terms of your community engagement and what I really appreciate is how positively everything is occurring.”