Two novice sailors from Australia have circumnavigated the Island to raise awareness about marine debris pollution.
Daniel Greenwood and Mathilde Gordon set sail around Vancouver Island in June in a small Catalina 27 sailboat, borrowed from a friend, and used their adventure to learn how to sail and raise awareness about marine debris at schools and other venues, conduct citizen science and participate in beach cleanup efforts.
The duo, who have called themselves Seize Change, will give a presentation about their journey at the Nanaimo Yacht Club Saturday, Aug. 31., 7-9 p.m., when they’ll talk about the challenges and highlights of their trip, discuss how they did it without using single-use plastics and share data they collected along the way.
According to a Seize Change press release, it’s easy to think local shorelines are pristine, but the Island’s west coast has a serious marine debris problem. Gordon said in some areas, piles of plastic fragments, Styrofoam and bottles are more than knee-deep and stretch as far as the eye can see.
“Plastic pieces of every shape and size are tangled amongst the log debris and you only have to peer into the salal bushes to see how much is push up about the high tide line in the winter storms,” Gordon said in the press release.
Greenwood and Gordon had never sailed together before and Gordon said some sailors in Nanaimo and Nanoose Bay didn’t believe they could do it. Friends in Victoria helped to develop the project and joined them for sections of the journey and a community member who heard about their plans loaned them his sailboat.
Their research included collecting microplastic samples for Vancouver Island University’s applied environmental research laboratory and connected with several groups around Vancouver Island working on the issue. They also joined B.C. Marine Trails and the Rugged Coast Research Society to do a beach cleanup on the south coast of Brooks Peninsula, one of the worst sites they’d seen on the trip.
“We picked up 25 super sacks of marine debris on one kilometre of the beach. We ran out of bags before we ran out of trash. It was absolutely atrocious,” Greenwood said.
Taking the trash off the beaches is a huge challenge, so for all of these groups a major focus is on reducing its release into the environment in the first place. Greenwood and Gordon encourage others to reduce their consumption of single-use plastics.
“As consumers we have the most power in the supply chain,” Gordon said. “If we don’t buy it in the first place, it won’t be produced. We must all do our bit to solve this problem. We don’t need a handful of people living plastic-free perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
The Aug. 31 presentation is a child-friendly event with refreshments and marine-themed raffle prizes.