Emergency cleanups hosted by Surfrider Pacific Rim in the wake of a massive plastic bag spill hitting the West Coast revealed a gruesome mosaic of single-use-plastics coating local shorelines. (Photo - Surfrider Pacific Rim)

Plastic bag spill exposes gruesome collage of ocean pollution around Tofino and Ucluelet

“All of this stuff is washing up on our beaches everyday.”

When Surfrider Pacific Rim chair Michelle Hall read the news on Nov. 17 that roughly 2,000 empty plastic bags had washed up in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve the week before, she immediately reached out to see how she and her volunteer team could help.

She told the Westerly News that she didn’t hear back from the Park Reserve, but did hear from locals over social media who had spotted washed up bags at various beaches throughout the West Coast. So, over the weekend, Surfrider teams were assembled at Schooner Cove, Combers Beach and Florencia Bay and Tla-o-qui-aht leaders organized a cleanup of Long Beach.

“There were lots of people on the beach and lot’s on really great enthusiasm and stoke and sharing of ideas,” Hall said adding locals organized their own cleanups in various areas. “This is a community of people who care about the beach and they don’t need organized beach cleanups to get out there and try to protect what they love…It’s part of who we are. We all choose to live here. We feel it.”

She said a wide assortment of plastics were picked up during cleanups and spoke to her support of Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns’ Bill M-151 that calls for a national strategy to combat plastic pollution.

“It’s not only about what do we do when these incidences occur, but what are we doing about single-use-plastics already in the environment,” she said. “We’re buying plastic products all of the time and it’s washing up on our beaches, but no one’s going after that. We’re going after who spilled these plastic bags, when all of this stuff is washing up on our beaches everyday.”

The plastic bags volunteers were discovering were empty aquaculture feed bags with Taplow Feeds’ logo on them, though it remains unclear whether the Taplow bags are the same ones found by Parks Canada in the Broken Group Islands on Nov. 10.

Hall said Surfrider would not be seeking financial compensation from Parks Canada for their cleanup efforts, but will be asking for increased communication so that incidents can be responded to more quickly. She noted the bags reportedly washed up on Nov. 10, but Parks Canada did not confirm the incident until Nov. 17.

“We realize that they’re the experts of dealing with these cases, but I’m not sure why there’s been so much secrecy around it when there’s obviously a lot of people who are willing to help,” she said.

The bags are not believed to have come from a West Coast aquaculture site, but Hall said she has reached out to local fish farmers Cermaq Canada and Creative Salmon and urged them to stop using plastic feed bags.

“I think a marine debris policy needs to be created in aquaculture and shared around B.C. and I’ve asked them to start thinking about creating that and given them some ideas on what a marine debris policy could look like,” she said.

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