Beach cleanup season is getting started in northern New Brunswick now that shore birds have migrated on.
Fifteen people tackled a mess Thursday morning near the Miscou lighthouse, using ATVs and light equipment.
Biologist Lisa Fauteux of the environmental group Verts Rivages said they managed to collect about 8,200 pounds of trash, including 123 lobster traps.
A recent survey of all the beaches in the area found 160 lobster traps washed up along this stretch of shoreline, Fauteux said.
"All these traps can continue ghost fishing if they go back to sea," she said.
There were also quite a few consumer items, she said, such as Tim Hortons cups and chip bags.
Fauteux has been patrolling the shoreline since she was a child visiting her grandparents' cottage.
These days she doesn't see as many plastic duck-hunting cartridges as she used to, but, a lot of other stuff has replaced it, she said.
"We have so much more plastic in our lives, and it's so light and it travels easily, and it's discarded like sometimes you don't even notice."
Her "pet peeve" is discarded single-use dental floss handles
"I see them everywhere," she said.
"I can't understand it. We have a plastic pollution problem. And I think that's just the type of object that should not be used at all."
The lightweight items are easily carried to sea by the wind and tides, said Fauteux. That's why it's important to pick it up when you see it.
All of the debris can be harmful to birds, she said, and to the grass that they nest in, which also serves to protect the sand dunes from erosion.
And if the trash washes out to sea again, she said, it can hurt aquatic life, which is already under a lot of stress due to environmental changes.
Her group is aiming to pick up 50 tonnes of trash in two years.
There's been a noticeable increase in waste on beaches in the last few years, said Fauteux.
She believes it's because storms are hitting more frequently.
"Whatever we can do to contribute to get this litter out is very helpful," she said.
"It makes such a difference. It's really satisfying when you see the big pile."
Her group received funding from the New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund and works with other partners, including Homarus, a research group associated with the Maritime Fishermen's Union and Nature N.B.
Last year about 30 people showed up to help on cleanup day, she said, but the weather was better.
She said it was mainly fishermen who turned out Thursday morning, which she said shows their commitment to the project.
"The guys up there are pretty enthusiastic," said Maritime Fishermen's Union fisheries adviser Luc LeBlanc.
"A bunch made it out in pretty nasty weather.
"They depend on a clean, healthy ocean to make a good living."
LeBlanc agreed with Fauteux that more traps have been washing ashore lately.
"The major variable is the weather," he said.
"If you get a big storm more gear will wash up. Either the rope will break off or the gear has drifted sometimes tens of miles away from where they were dropped. So, they just can't be found."
"It's definitely a climate change issue," he said. "Marine conditions are worse now.
"The water is way more violent than it used to be."
But there are also more clean up efforts being made.
"We're finding more because we're looking."
Most beaches targeted for cleanups have not been cleaned in 10 to 15 years, he said, or ever before.
Usually it's lobster traps, not crab traps, that wash up, he said, because they're closer to shore and in shallower water, which is more vulnerable to storm conditions.
Most of the found traps are "really, really old," he said, but still less than 20 years old. Fishermen switched from wooden traps to metal ones in the early 2000s.
If they're not too damaged and the tags are still on, they can be returned to their owners and reused, said LeBlanc. A regular lobster trap costs about $60.
More often they are sent to a scrap yard, he said, adding it can be a bit of a challenge to find a place that will actually recycle them, with no dedicated system in the province.
Typically these cleanups are done after every fishing season, said LeBlanc.
There will probably be one in October, he said, in southeastern New Brunswick's Zone 25, where the fishing season is still under way.