The Ucluelet Aquarium’s marine debris coordinator Brittany Buirs joins citizen scientist Pat Sieber for a microplastics survey at Cox Bay. Anyone interested in particpating in a survey can reach out to Buirs at marinedebris@uclueletaqarium.org. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

VIDEO: Ucluelet Aquarium surveying spread and threat of microplastics

“Plastics never actually go away, they break down to smaller and smaller pieces.”

Hidden within the West Coast’s popular sandy beaches are thousands of tiny pieces of plastic that are putting sealife, and humans, at risk.

“Plastics never actually go away, they break down to smaller and smaller pieces,” Ucluelet Aquarium’s Brittany Buirs told the Westerly News during a microplastics survey event at Cox Bay. “Microplastics in particular are affecting sea life and eventually making their way up the food chain and potentially affecting our health as humans.”

READ MORE: Tofino working on bylaw to restrict single-use plastics

Microplastics are fragments smaller than five millimetres and the Ucluelet Aquarium has been documenting the type and amount of those fragments that are washing up on the West Coast through a citizen science survey project launched in 2017.

“It’s a citizen science project where anyone can come join to help learn about plastic pollution, how it’s affecting our coast, and help contribute to collecting scientific data…It’s a great opportunity to get outside, help clean our local shores and learn about a really important topic,” she said.

“Citizen science is really important because it engages people in an important topic and they can feel like they’re contributing to the health and well-being of the environment they live in…It also gets like-minded people together to bring ideas to their own communities, taking action and creating new leaders.”

READ MORE: VIDEO: Ucluelet Aquarium hosts stormy microplastics survey event

The aquarium has been monitoring seven sites between Ucluelet and Tofino and invites residents and visitors to participate in the twice-a-month survey events to raise awareness while collecting valuable data.

“Most of our beaches are amazing and beautiful and when people come out and do this survey, they understand if you look a little closer and dig a little deeper you find small pieces of plastic,” she said. “These small pieces are not necessarily litter from someone on the beach, but they could have been broken down over thousands of kilometres away and made their way to our shore…Microplastics tell a global story that global effort is needed because the pollution we throw out here may affect a different part of the world and vice versa.”

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

Pat Sieber was one of the volunteer citizen scientists participating in the Cox Bay event and said she’d like to see more people taking advantage of the opportunities to learn about their coastline while protecting it.

“I enjoy doing this. It’s very interesting,” she said. “I’m passionate about the health of our oceans and I’m disturbed by the amount of plastics. The more real research and data we have, the more likely we are to get people to listen to us, I hope.”

Volunteer survey events are hosted twice a month where volunteers collect the top two centimetres of sand along 100 metre transect line placed at the last high tide mark.

“Every time we come out and survey, we are collecting ‘fresh’ plastic that has recently come in from the ocean,” Buirs said. “It’s not debris that has been sitting here, it’s fresh plastics that have just come in from the last high tide line.”

READ MORE: SeaChange panel talks microplastics

Volunteers focus on one-square-metre at a time, shaking sand through a sieve to collect microplastics, which are then documented.

“That way, we can really try and figure out what the most recent ocean currents and plastic types are telling us about how we can change our habits,” Buirs said. “The second part is being able to use this information to share with communities and people who lead and make change..Our actions in the long run will help protect the ocean and help protect our health as humans and help protect the marine life that we depend on.”

READ MORE: Surfrider Pacific Rim: On protecting Canada’s Oceans this World Oceans Day

Anyone interested in supporting the survey as a sponsor or volunteer citizen scientist can contact marinedebris@uclueletaqarium.org.

“Our coastal community is quite small and it relies on the ocean and its continued healthy longevity because of our food security and local economy,” she said. “We want it to continue to thrive because we need it and plastic is threatening it.”

Along with gathering data to share with governments, Buirs hopes drawing attention to the amount of plastics polluting local shores will motivate West Coast residents and visitors to reduce the amount of plastics they are using in their day-to-day lives.

READ MORE: VIDEO: Ucluelet Aquarium hosts plastic-free market

“Start with the toothbrush in your house or taking re-useable bags to the grocery store or a [reuseable] mug to the coffee shop,” she said. “Those are small steps that eventually trickle into new habits that stop plastic entering the ocean.”

Anyone wanting to learn more about plastic alternatives is encouraged to check out a plastic display at the Ucluelet Aquarium.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A sentencing hearing began for Joel Conway who was convicted of break and enter and sexual assault last year. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
Saanich man sentenced to three years in prison for breaking into woman’s home and sexually assaulting her

Crown is asking Joel Conway be sentenced to four years for both charges, to be served concurrent

Victoria fire crews quickly extinguished a multi-unit apartment building fire near Beacon Hill Park on Oct. 30. (Courtesy of Chief Paul Bruce)
Victoria fire crews extinguish multi-unit fire near Beacon Hill Park

Two people have suffered non-life-threatening injuries

Blanshard Street, between Burdett Avenue and Douglas Street, will be closed to traffic Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 while crews repave the road. (City of Victoria)
TRAFFIC ALERT: Section of Blanshard Street will be closed this weekend

Crews will be repaving Blanshard Street between Burdett Avenue and Douglas Street

Victoria police are asking for help locating 14-year-old, high-risk missing youth, Anabella Lilly. (Victoria Police Department)
Victoria police seek help locating high-risk missing youth

Police say the circumstances under which 14-year-old Anabella Lilly went missing are ‘high-risk’

Physical distancing signs are a common sight in B.C. stores and businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS
272 more COVID-19 cases for B.C., outbreak at oil sands project

Three new health care outbreaks, three declared over

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Allentown, Pa. on Oct. 26. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
POLL: How closely are you following the U.S. presidential election?

It may feel like it’s been going on forever but the U.S.… Continue reading

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Police service dog Herc helped RCMP locate and arrest suspects in the Ladysmith area on Oct. 23, 2020, related to a stolen vehicle. (Submitted)
RCMP nab prolific property offender in Ladysmith with assist from police dog Herc

Police attempted to stop the vehicle but it fled from the area towards Chemainus.

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Most Read