Return-It Blog

Return-It & the Pacific Salmon Foundation support microplastic research

The problem of plastics in the ocean may conjure images of debris washing up on beaches, but it is microplastics – particles up to 5mm – that pose an almost invisible challenge in oceans worldwide, including here on the B.C. coast. A new partnership between Return-It and the Pacific Salmon Foundation is aimed at shedding new light on microplastics in the marine environment in B.C. in order to make clean-up efforts more effective.

A ‘citizen science’ project being undertaken by the Ucluelet Aquarium – now funded by Return-It and the Pacific Salmon Foundation – has found recurring patterns in the distribution and types of microplastics along the west coast of Vancouver Island since 2017.

The aquarium’s Microplastic and Marine Debris Initiative has found that microplastics on western Vancouver Island are predominantly present in the winter months when tides are higher and ocean currents are stronger.

“By understanding recurring patterns about the volume and types of microplastics present, we can ensure that future beach clean-up projects on the B.C. coast are strategically timed to remove more debris,” said lead researcher Sophie Vanderbanck, Marine Debris Coordinator & Biologist with Ucluelet Aquarium. “One of our goals with this initiative is to build awareness of the microplastic issue that is facing us globally and locally, through engaging our volunteer citizen scientists, the community and visitors to the aquarium.”

“Research is vital if we are to better understand and identify solutions to managing this almost invisible challenge of microplastics on B.C. coasts,” said Allen Langdon, CEO of Return-It. “This partnership with the Pacific Salmon Foundation reflects Return-It’s commitment to protecting our environment by diverting plastic and other material from our oceans and waterways. In B.C., we are fortunate to have many ways to recycle and manage material – there is no reason for it to end up in our ocean and waterways.”

“Microplastics may seem small, but they can have lasting impacts on salmon habitat and sea life of all kinds,” said Michael Meneer, President and CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation. “Thanks to community leadership with our partners Return-It and the Ucluelet Aquarium, we can help keep dangerous microplastics out of salmon habitat and better protect our coastal ecosystems.”

The Ucluelet Aquarium’s research began in 2017 and is part of a growing trend of citizen science that enables large volumes of data collection while offering a collaborative way for individuals to become involved in education, research and community engagement. Volunteer citizen scientists, guided by Ucluelet Aquarium researchers, gather monthly to collect and sample microplastics found along local beaches in the Ucluelet-Tofino area.

Through the partnership with Return-It, the Pacific Salmon Foundation will have funding to dedicate to microplastic initiatives, and the two organizations will be working together to raise awareness about microplastics and their impact on ecosystems.

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