More trash than ever is washing up on Halifax's McNabs Island, groups says

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About 80 bags of trash were collected during the 30th annual clean up of McNabs Island on Sunday. (Friends of McNabs/Twitter - image credit)
About 80 bags of trash were collected during the 30th annual clean up of McNabs Island on Sunday. (Friends of McNabs/Twitter - image credit)

The amount of garbage washing up on the shores of McNabs Island in Halifax harbour is increasing, even after 30 years of cleanups.

"It's getting worse. There's more and more ocean debris," Cathy McCarthy, the president of the Friends of McNabs Island Society, told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon on Monday.

"It has not really decreased, even though there's more awareness about ocean pollution and ocean plastics."

McCarthy has been organizing annual cleanups of McNabs Island, which is only accessible by boat, since 1991.

Frances Willick/CBC
Frances Willick/CBC

The island is a magnet for garbage because it's situated at the mouth of the Halifax harbour, collecting trash from the city and the ocean.

The Friends of McNabs Island Society held its 30th annual cleanup on Sunday, which was postponed for nearly two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

McCarthy said 90 volunteers collected about 800 bags of garbage — a significant increase over previous years.

She said that much of an increase is concerning, despite the two-year delay in cleanups.

Friends of McNabs Island Society
Friends of McNabs Island Society

"We've been doing these cleanups for 30 years, so we pretty much know what to expect," she said.

"Each year, we probably collect around 400 bags of garbage or so, but the number of lobster traps has certainly increased in recent years."

On Sunday, the volunteers found about 80 metal lobster traps, but also rope, motor oil containers, lobster bands, tags and fish crates.

Friends of McNabs Island Society
Friends of McNabs Island Society

"It's just really unsightly garbage that we find on the beaches of beautiful Nova Scotia," McCarthy said. "McNabs Island is a provincial park. It's a national historic site, and it's really unfortunate that we keep finding so much garbage."

The volunteers also found sheets of Styrofoam "as big as a bed frame," dozens of tires, old pots, an aluminum commercial blender, several patio umbrellas and a Sleeping Beauty toy.

McCarthy said tampon applicators, Tim Hortons' coffee cups and masks were common finds on the beach as well.

"The amount of ocean garbage is phenomenal, really," she said.

The annual cleanup of McNabs Island is the largest and longest running cleanup in the Maritimes. Since 1991, volunteers have collected 15,800 bags of trash from the island.

McCarthy said she's hoping to see the amount of trash washing ashore decrease in the coming years, but that will require corporations to do more to reduce ocean pollution.

"Some of the corporations have to take more responsibility," she said.

Friends of McNabs Island Society
Friends of McNabs Island Society

"We dug out tires, all kinds of tires and good brand name tires — Michelin, Goodyear, Goodrich, you name it, we found them out on McNabs — and those tires, who knows where they're coming from."

McCarthy also called on the federal government to reduce the amount of "ghost gear" — abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear — found in Atlantic Canadian waters.

She suggested that a deposit be implemented on ghost gear so there's an incentive to return it when it's found on beaches.

Friends of McNabs Island Society
Friends of McNabs Island Society

"Maybe something like that might work so what appears to be garbage now ends up having some kind of value for somebody, say a refund of $10 a trap or something," she said.

"Maybe there'd be more people willing to go and retrieve this garbage."

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