Knee deep in plastic on Caddy Bay beach

Group finds Cadboro Bay beach riddled with plastic, an Island shoreline epidemic

Surfrider Foundation co-ordinator Lynn Wharram shows a handful of plastic gathered within a few square feet

The more you dig, the more you’ll find.

The sand of Cadboro-Gyro Park beach is riddled with plastic, a shoreline epidemic that runs up and down the coast of Vancouver Island.

Those who clean Caddy Bay beach know just how much plastic there is, and it’s the small plastics that are of great concern, says Lynn Wharram of the local Surfrider Foundation chapter.

“Cadboro beach is one of the worst around, it’s full of micro plastics,” she says. “For a local beach, it’s insane, you can spend an hour in a square foot area.”

On Sunday, Wharram and the Surfrider Foundation led the annual beach cleanup at Cadboro-Gyro Park. It’s been going on for years and the garbage at Caddy Bay beach only gets worse, she says.

“It’s all small plastics, cigarette butts, nurdles and tiny pieces of plastic that’s broken down, or bigger pieces that are going to break down.”

Obviously, if you can find a large piece of plastic or styrofoam before it breaks down, that’s a win, says volunteer Randall Cook.

Because there are so many bead-size pieces of plastic, including the nurdles many believe are from a disastrous 2012 spill off the coast of Hong Kong, Cook believes there is no denying that plastic is in our food system.

“There’s a term called ‘plastic smog’ to describe it in our ocean,” Cook said. “Think about all the microbeads of plastic that come out of our clothes in washing machines and go straight to sea in Victoria without treatment, not too mention the evidence researchers are finding inside animals.”

The nurdles issue is a raging one. The beads are shipped to factories where they are melted and moulded into something new. In the ocean, they collect toxins which they potentially leach out somewhere else, or worse, they are eaten by animals and go into the food chain, Wharram said. They’re found at Willows and at Cattle Point as well as Caddy Bay.

During the annual transect clean-up at Caddy Bay on Aug. 2, straws and stir sticks stood out as they do every year.

The waste left by beach goers can equal the waste that’s washed up on shore, Wharram says.

The results of the carefully measured transect are sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“A lot of what we’re trying to do with the transects are to track trends, in particular, the amount of single-use plastics. There’s nurdles, which again we assume are from the Hong Kong spill, but we find a lot of straws, and broken pieces of forks and spoons. It makes you think twice about using plastic utensils.”

This year Wharram also picked up a perfectly good but forgotten T-shirt that was drying on a log and a pair of flip flops. They seem innocuous but they go straight to sea when the tide comes up.

The problem is, it’s all innocuous to too many people, Wharram says.

In the Broken Islands off the coast of Bamfield and Uclulet, Wharram has found hundreds of floating water bottles behind logs on otherwise pristine beaches in the Pacific Rim Park.

Another disturbing trend that’s increased this year is the amount of plastic casings for shotgun shells. The Surfrider crew ran a May cleanup at Ross Bay where they found 50-odd shotgun shell casings. Then in June they returned to find just as many new ones had washed ashore. There’s a handful at Caddy Bay this year too.

“We don’t know exactly where they’re coming from but we have a suspicion that with the sudden spike in the seal population, that fishermen may be using them on the seals.”

This year’s Caddy Bay beach cleanup was moved to after the Cadboro Bay Festival, when beachgoers leave a lot of debris, Wharram said.