Panmure Island residents call for action after foam buoys pile up on their shores

·3 min read
Panmure Island residents Lucy Robson, left, and Kellie Lockhart say they're worried about the environmental cost of leaving expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) waste along their shores. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)
Panmure Island residents Lucy Robson, left, and Kellie Lockhart say they're worried about the environmental cost of leaving expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) waste along their shores. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)

Some Panmure Island residents are concerned with the growing amount of fishing buoys and other waste piling up on their shores and say no one seems to be responsible for cleaning it up.

Residents say the accumulation of fishing buoys made of expanded polystyrene foam (EPS), more commonly known as Styrofoam, is out of hand this year.

"It's crazy in some ways that we ban plastic bags in the supermarket ... yet we allow tons of Styrofoam to go into our ocean every year," said Lucy Robson, who has lived in the area for 12 years.

"And I mean literally tons. And this is just one location on Panmure Island. There are many locations like this, and I'm sure there's many locations around P.E.I."

Resident Kellie Lockhart said she and her husband counted thousands of foam fishing buoys along the shoreline back in January, when the debris was "at its absolute worst."

"This tells people that Prince Edward Island does not care about the environment, the wildlife at all," she said.

Laura Meader/CBC
Laura Meader/CBC

"It looks really, really bad. You got tourists that's coming in the summer. First impression of our beautiful island, you walk down the beach and this is what you see."

Lockhart said she's not opposed to aquaculture on P.E.I., but polystyrene foam can break down over time into tiny pieces of waste that end up in the mouths of fish, birds and other wildlife.

"It's going to be getting into drinking water. It gets into the fish. They start eating it when it's floating in the water not realizing it's not food. The birds eat the fish. It's just an ongoing problem," she said.

'No one really wants to own the problem'

Peter Warris, director of projects and industry liaison for P.E.I. Aquaculture Alliance, said the non-profit takes complaints from the public seriously, with shoreline waste being one of the top five issues this year.

There are no laws or regulations from either the provincial or federal governments that require polystyrene foam fishing buoys or other waste to be removed.

The P.E.I. Aquaculture Alliance launched a program last year aimed at transitioning to a hard plastic alternative, which is more durable and less likely to break apart and add to shoreline waste.

Laura Meader/CBC
Laura Meader/CBC

Through its Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) Replacement Program, the alliance replaced 87,000 Styrofoam buoys with the more environmentally sustainable option.

But Warris said the program is not active this year.

Polystyrene foam buoys are used primarily by mussel farmers, he said, and members have told him there have not been any new purchases for the last 10 years or so, which means the waste at Panmure Island is from the fishers' existing stockpile.

Lockhart and Robson say they've filed complaints with their MLA, Cory Deagle of Montague-Kilmuir; the P.E.I. Aquaculture Alliance; the Department of Environment; the Department of Fisheries and Communities; the premier's office; and the Opposition.

They say they have either received no response or been redirected to an agency they have already complained to.

"No one really wants to own the problem," Robson said.

Laura Meader/CBC
Laura Meader/CBC

The Cleaning our Shoreline initiative, a provincial program that hires students to remove debris and waste from P.E.I.'s coastal shoreline in the summer, is expected to resume in the coming weeks, when students wrap up their academic semesters.

The Department of Fisheries and Communities said in a statement that it "continues to work with the P.E.I. Aquaculture Alliance and the fishing sector to replace remaining Styrofoam buoys with longer lasting plastic buoys."

The statement adds that "the department will continue to work with industry to hopefully fully discontinue the use of Styrofoam buoys in the coming years."

But Lockhart and Robson say that's not good enough.

"We need some action before the end of June," Lockhart said. "We just physically can't do it all on our own."

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