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Ocean Wise launches awareness campaign after microplastics found in Vancouver water samples

Ocean Wise launches plastic pollution awareness campaign
WATCH: Scientists found hundreds of microplastic particles in a small sample of Vancouver seawater, prompting Ocean Wise to call on the public to be mindful of their trash. Linda Aylesworth reports.

The problem of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans has found its way to Vancouver’s shores.

Scientists with Ocean Wise gathered water samples outside Canada Place in Coal Harbour 10 days ago, and found 1,258 particles of microplastics in one cubic metre of seawater.

To put that in perspective, scientists collecting samples off the coast of Qatar last year found an average of 0.7 particles per cubic metre.

That’s prompted Ocean Wise to launch the #BePlasticWise public awareness campaign, aimed at getting people to reduce their plastic consumption, and dispose of the plastic they do use responsibly.

READ MORE: Federal government funds research on microplastics and other ocean contaminants

“Some [scientists] are estimating that by the year 2040 or 2050, there will be more pounds of plastic in the ocean than there are pounds of fish,” Ocean Wise president and CEO John Nightingale told the crowd at the GLOBE Sustainability Forum on Wednesday.

“That’s why we’re launching this campaign and asking people to sign the pledge.”

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The pledge is available on Ocean Wise’s website, and asks people to commit to reducing their plastic consumption and to stay conscious about how they use plastic in the future.

Plastic has become a major problem in the eyes of ocean conservationists. Researchers with the Plastic Oceans Foundation estimate about 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans every year.

READ MORE: Vancouver Aquarium bans single-use plastic water bottles to advocate for plastic-free oceans

Among the newest concerns among scientists are microplastics, which are defined as pieces of plastic measuring less than 5 millimetres in length.

While larger pieces of plastic can harm or kill marine mammals and fish by wrapping around them or being ingested, microplastics can be just as deadly to creatures on the bottom of the food chain.

Just like with larger plastic items, microplastics can poison or kill those tiny organisms, affecting bigger fish and eventually creating food shortages that can affect even the ocean’s largest inhabitants.

“Ingesting little bits and pieces of plastic can suffocate, block, or artificially satiate [creatures] so they’re not hungry anymore, causing real problems,” Coastal Ocean Research Institute director Dr. Peter Ross said at the forum. His team was the one responsible for pulling and analyzing the water sample taken right outside the forum’s doors.

“Plastic is not nutritious, and mistaking it for food is a problem for all species. We find microplastics in every species we look at.”

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Out of the more than 1,200 particles found in that small sample of Vancouver seawater, 1,050 particles were synthetic plastic materials, including microfibres from textiles broken down from larger pieces.

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READ MORE: City of Victoria bans single-use plastic bags

Ocean Wise says the problem is one of the few worldwide issues that has a simple solution: if everyone does their part, plastic pollution could start to level off or even decrease altogether.

“There are things each one of us can begin doing,” Nightingale said.