Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup

Protecting our waterways

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup kicks off its 21st annual fall conservation project on September 20 to 28 in every province and territory across Canada. From Newfoundland to BC, thousands of dedicated volunteers will trek to the shores of streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans to gather litter.

What’s involved

“One of Canada’s largest direct action conservation initiatives to protect and preserve our waterways is organized by the Vancouver Aquarium and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada, and presented by Loblaw Companies Limited. The program is growing every year with more and more people joining us,” says program manager Jill Dwyer.

In 2013, more than 58,500 Canadians rallied at over 1,950 cleanup sites throughout the country and cleaned over 3,000 km of coastline. Volunteers from schools, community groups, environmental organizations, and businesses, as well as families, seniors, and citizens of all ages joined together to combat the threat to our waterways.

On PEI, Invesco Enterprise Services—an investment company—saw staff volunteers and their families participate.

“Our beaches in PEI are an amazing natural resource, so this event is a great way for our employees to give back to the community in which we live,” staff representatives Adam Runge and Tracy Bergman say. “Last year, we adopted two beaches, one in North Rustico and Tea Hill Beach in Stratford, PEI. The types of things we’ve found on the beach are incredible! We find just normal day-to-day garbage as well as random things such as street signs or tires.”

Runge and Bergman add, “The experience is amazing for those who participate. Not only do we clean up the beach, we also have the chance to teach young children what it means to be part of something bigger and that a few people working together can really make a difference. Overall, it gives everyone who participates a strong sense of pride and ownership of the shoreline of our beautiful island.”

These fearless hunter-gatherers may even experience this outdoor adventure as a fun treasure hunt of discovery! For example, at Edmonton’s Beaumaris Lake, the Young Naturalists of Alberta, after collecting cast-off items, cheerfully celebrated with tasty treats and beverages.

Volunteer contributions

Volunteers get involved by becoming a site coordinator, organizing a local cleanup, joining an event hosted by another team, and/or spreading the word to others.

Site coordinators organize the activities, provide equipment and supplies, and perform a number of other vital tasks. They also suggest that participants bring gloves, wear closed-toe shoes for rocky terrain, and dress for the weather. Through the program’s website, social media platforms, and communication tools, organizers spread the message to recruit more volunteers.

During a typical cleanup, participants pick up items and record the type and amount of collected litter on data cards. This information is later used to determine which types of litter are widespread and to target what needs to change in order to decrease and prevent future shoreline litter.

In Ontario, coordinator Brady Watterworth reports, “Our cleanup takes place at Rondeau Provincial Park, on the shore of Lake Erie in southwestern Ontario. Many people volunteer to protect Rondeau and the various species of plants and animals that live there. It’s also a good way for people to get out and be active while enjoying the park!”

“Over the past two years, we collected over 3,100 lbs (1,406 kg) of trash from the Rondeau shoreline,” Watterworth adds. “A truly unbelievable number for two days of cleanup! We collected a variety of different objects. Car tires, baby diapers, and a 55-gallon drum were some of the more interesting finds.”

A recent development in the program comes from Japan’s tsunami debris reaching BC shores. The tsunami washed an estimated 5 million tonnes of debris into the sea. With funding from the government of Japan, the program aims to reach the remote shorelines of Vancouver Island’s west coast.

Recovered materials

“We record discarded items in our Dirty Dozen List of items such as cigarettes, cigarette filters, food wrappers, and plastic bottle caps,” Dwyer says. “Cigarette butts are always number one. There is a common misconception that cigarette butts are biodegradable. It’s one of those items that seems socially acceptable to throw on the ground.”

“It’s generally the same culprits year after year. What that tells us is that the majority of shoreline litter is actually coming from land-based recreational activities. So a big part of our program’s messaging is to get people to change their behaviour,” adds Dwyer.

Litter distribution

Collected and sorted materials are recycled if at all possible. For example, Terracycle—a company known for recycling the unrecyclable and even turning it into green products—recycles the project’s cigarette butts into plastic pallets. Any items that can’t be recycled are disposed of properly.

Project impact

During the program’s 21-year history, an extraordinary number of more than 500,000 volunteers cleaned roughly 22,000 km of shorelines, collecting nearly 2.6 million lbs (1.2 million kg) of shoreline litter. Organizers acknowledge progress has been made, but shoreline trash is still a serious environmental issue requiring ongoing vigilance to maintain waterways.

Shoreline litter is responsible for entangling and choking wildlife, causing wild animals to swallow objects injurious to their health and negatively affecting water quality and cleanliness. Last year’s cleanup alone found many animals—including birds, fish, and even a fox—entwined in discarded materials; cigarette butts are known to be toxic to fish.

Shoreline litter can also risk human health. Unsuspecting beach-goers might step on sharp glass or metal, and discarded ropes or fishing lines can pose a serious threat to swimmers and boaters. Some litter can also release chemicals into the water, leading to drinking water contamination.

The Friends of Semiahmoo Bay Society, a nonprofit organization from Surrey, BC, works as an environmental steward on the West Coast in Boundary Bay and the Fraser River delta. The group has been cleaning up shores for more than 10 years with help from about 500 volunteers. Styrofoam—often from boat docks—is a key problem here, as it breaks down and is eaten by birds and marine wildlife.

Blackie Spit in Boundary Bay is a very sensitive shoreline marsh habitat for forage fish, migrating salmon, and migrating birds. The cleanups here are often led by a biologist due to the sensitivity of the location. Underwater divers have even helped clean up the nearby Crescent Beach pier.

Garbage retrieved

Shoreline Cleanup concentrates only on removing human-generated litter. Natural substances such as driftwood are undisturbed in order to not upset the aquatic ecosystem.

Collected debris includes glass and plastic beverage bottles, beverage cans, plastic straws and stir sticks, and building materials. Last year’s cleanup saw nearly 220,000 lbs (99,280 kg) of materials collected—compared to almost 110,000 lbs (49,860 kg) in 2003.

One person’s trash …

Over the years, volunteers have picked up plenty of litter. Some of their more unusual finds include

  • an Elvis costume
  • a wedding dress
  • false teeth
  • gold rings
  • rubber chickens
  • a wig

Get involved!

To get involved, visit shorelinecleanup.ca or phone toll-free 1-877-427-2422. Start your own fall cleanup anytime between September 1 and October 31 or join a cleanup team in your area!

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