By Alex Mifflin, co-host of The Water Brothers on TVO
Canada is blessed when it comes to water. We hold about 20% of the world’s surface water supply, we border three oceans and have the world’s largest coastline. And with all these great resources, incredible landscapes and unique ecosystems, comes great responsibility to protect them.
One of the most serious threats to our aquatic ecosystems is the accumulation of trash and plastic waste in them. Many of us have heard of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” and are aware that plastic pollution is plaguing remote areas of the Pacific, but few are aware that the garbage patch in the North Pacific is simply one of FIVE major zones where trash is building up.
My brother, Tyler, and I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to join a research and sailing expedition to the North Pacific Garbage Patch last year and we saw for ourselves the damage that small, seemingly insignificant pieces of plastic can do to marine life in the farthest corners of the globe. Most disturbing for us, was to realize that the amounts of plastic we measured in the centre of the gyre (the swirling ocean currents that create garbage patches) were not much higher than the concentrations of plastic outside the gyre. We also recently journeyed out into Lake Ontario and surprisingly found even higher levels of plastic pollution than what we had found in the centre of the Pacific. The entire Ocean and even the Great Lakes are filling up with plastic, not just the “patches”.
When I speak with friends and relatives about our expeditions, many have mentioned the possibility of using boats to clean up all the plastic out there. The reality is that it would be nearly impossible to clean that much plastic out of the ocean with current technology, mainly because plastic breaks down into such small fragments and the oceans are just too vast. In fact, such an endeavor would be futile unless we first find a solution to the actual source of the problem – our rapidly growing addiction to single use, disposable plastics.
We are more than capable of reducing our plastic consumption and waste, but another effective solution is to clean up the shores and coastlines where a large amount of our trash either enters oceans or lakes from, or eventually gets washed ashore. Thankfully, we have made considerable progress in this area and endeavors like the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup are a simple, yet powerful way to get involved in solving a problem as daunting as marine plastic pollution.
Since 2003, an inspiring 400,000+ people have participated in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup and they have together removed nearly one million kilos of garbage from our shorelines. Some of the trash they pull up is bizarre and the numbers are impressive.
This annual event in now one of the largest environmental cleanup efforts in the entire world and is continuing to grow every year. It is truly a homegrown Canadian success story of which we should all be proud!
My brother and I will be participating in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup again this year and we urge as many Canadians as possible to join us in helping to make this year’s event an even greater success. So if you want to do something that can have a direct impact on the health of the environment, look no further than your local beach or coastline this September 21st! Let’s do something together about marine plastic pollution before our oceans turn into this…
Alex Mifflin and brother Tyler Mifflin host the award-winning eco-adventure series, The Water Brothers, exploring the world’s most important water stories. The second season airs Tuesdays at 7:30 pm from September 10 – October 22 on TVO and at www.thewaterbrothers.ca. Learn more about plastic marine debris and its consequences in the episode, “Plastic Ocean,” airing September 17.