A box spring mattress, buoys, beer cans and plastic tubing were just some of the things picked up at the annual McNabs Island clean up on Sunday.

About 250 people took free boat rides to help pick up all the trash that made its way to the shore of Halifax Harbour's largest island.

Graham Carter, a teacher at Ecole Seconadire Du Sommet in Halifax, brought his Grade 7 class. He said it was a "learning moment" for his class.

Thinking about waste

Mitchell Owens, part of Carter's class, has been to McNabs Island before for another clean up. He said picking up the garbage makes him think about the waste he produces.

"I don't tend to litter, obviously. I don't think I ever have. But it all ends up on the shores eventually. It's affecting our food and everything like that so it's just not a good idea," said Owens.

Renee Bourget, another Grade 7 student, said picking up garbage makes her feel better.

Helping the environment

"I think it's great, honestly, picking up garbage," she said, "there's less garbage around, it helps the evironment."

"For them just to see plastic floating up from the ocean, realizing that every action they make its important, and to recycle and reuse and reduce your waste, it makes it real," said Carter. 

Cathy McCarthy, clean up coordinator, said the goal is to make McNabs Island — a provincial park and national historic site — look like a park.

Old garbage churns up

"Every year we pick up bags and bags of garbage. It's not garbage that people will leave when they come over to visit McNabs, it's garbage that washes up on the beach," said McCarthy.

McCarthy said because of the island's location at the entrance of Halifax Harbour there's a lot of garbage that ends up there. She attributes the amount of trash to winter storms, rising sea levels, high tides, and a busy port. She said some strange things have appeared on the island in the past.

"A carousel pony. That was pretty heavy duty plastic that was probably out there swirling around in the ocean for, I don't know, 30 or 40 years and then got washed up on one of the beaches," said McCarthy. The pony washed ashore in 2014.

12,000 garbage bags

McCarthy said each year around 400 to 500 bags of garbage are collected on the island. Despite all the trash, she says she feels encouraged by the number of people volunteering to help with cleaning efforts.

"We have all ages helping out. We have school groups, we have Girl Guides, we have families, we have companies helping out today. It's really a large community effort and people look forward to it every year," said McCarthy.

McCarthy said more than 12,000 bags of garbage have been collected since the annual clean up started 25 years ago.

With files from Stephanie VanKampen