Ricky Belanger says it’s not up to Ottawa to take care of our oceans. It’s up to us.
Sure, politicians have to play their part in creating good policy and enforcing legislation, but if everyone would just do a little more themselves, it would go a long way, he says.
Belanger is the new manager of the Discovery Passage Aquarium, and when he’s not collecting sea critters for the aquarium, giving classes or tours of the facility educating the public about sea life or filling out paperwork, you can often find him down on the beach cleaning up garbage somewhere in Campbell River.
Last Saturday, he was down on the beach at Roberts’ Reach, where the aquarium gets most of their critters. That day, however, he was just picking up after other people.
Between the packing materials, take-out cups, aquaculture debris and used needles, there’s no shortage of work available, even just in that one little 100-or-so-metre section of our coastline.
“Last time we did this, we got four big bags of garbage out of here,” he says, referencing the clean-up event held in recognition of World Oceans Day back in June.
But he’d rather not hound people to get out there and clean it up. He’d rather it not get there in the first place.
“If you take, for instance, the measures people take in terms of air filtration, food preparation and the precautions we take in those areas, imagine if we cared that much about what’s going out into the ocean?” he asks, rhetorically.
The biggest problem he sees, that everyone can do something about, is to limit their use of plastics.
Plastics of all sorts, he says, inevitably end up breaking down at a microscopic level and making their way into the oceans.
“It’s my understanding that just about every fish – in every part of the ocean – that has been tested for microplastics, there’s been at least some trace of plastics in their system somewhere,” he says.
Do you need to put those apples or those carrots in a cellophane bag when you’re at the grocery store?
“And if you think about it, every time you wash a fleece sweater or spandex, those little fibres are getting sucked out of your washing machine and into the ocean. It actually ends up getting embedded in the muscle tissue of fish, and we don’t know the long-term effects of those yet. But what we do know is that we eat those fish, so that plastic is coming right back into our system.”
Stormdrain runoff, he says, is also particularly detrimental. Especially for juvenile salmon.
“If you think about the soaps from when you wash your car or diesel runoff, it’s incredibly damaging for their lungs, and when you consider the importance of salmon to Campbell River, the Salmon Capital of the World, as they say, I think we should be doing a little more to help them.
“We’re seeing the populations of salmon rebounding right now,” Belanger continues. “In the Discovery Harbour, there are people who have been watching the salmon populations for 30 years who are saying there are more juvenile salmon than they’ve ever seen swimming around out there, so now’s the time more than ever to give them a helping hand and keep that trend going.
“Every day, if you can improve just the little things you’re doing, it will make a big difference,” he says.
For more on the aquarium and Belanger’s efforts, including how to get involved in future beach cleanup events, make sure you “Like” their facebook page, and regularly check back on their website, discoverypassageaquarium.ca to keep up with what’s going on.