What's in your harbour? Scientist appalled by Newfoundland's underwater trash problem

A research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been surveying what lies beneath the calm waters of harbours in Newfoundland, and it isn't pretty.

Pottery, plastics and pedal bikes just some of the debris found by researchers

Beverage containers cover the floor of a harbour in Newfoundland. (Submitted by Corey Morris)

A research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been surveying what lies beneath the calm waters of harbours in Newfoundland.

Spoiler alert — it isn't pretty.

What's in your harbour?

6 years ago
Duration 2:08
A scientist is appalled by Newfoundland's underwater trash problem.

While there is debris with historical value, such as clay pottery and containers from European vessels visiting during the summer months, there is a much larger amount of trash.

It's the more recent garbage found in our coastal environment that has Corey Morris concerned.

Barbecues and bikes

"It's shocking," said Morris, who is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Ocean Science at Memorial University.

"Some places it's near impossible to see the natural bottom because its covered in so much debris."

Corey Morris says his most surprising find was this clothes dryer. When he opened the door he found work clothes and boots still inside. (Submitted by Corey Morris)

"Many of the new garbage contains plastic. We're seeing vinyl siding, windows, carpet, flooring. We see household items such as fridges, stoves, washers — barbecues are very common in harbours around Newfoundland — tools [and] table saws," he told CBC Radio's the Broadcast.

"And the number of pedal bikes are just incredible in our harbours for some reason."

The purpose of the survey, conducted from 2007 to 2016, was to study the effects of harbour infrastructure on fish and fish habitat. 

But over the course of almost a decade, it was the amount of garbage steadily accumulating that really stood out.

A sculpin trapped in discarded fishing gear. Morris says the number of fish, both dead and alive, tangled in old gear was the most disturbing discovery. (Submitted by Corey Morris)

The researchers monitored 20 locations over the course of the survey, from the tip of the Northern Peninsula to the Southern Shore of the Avalon. 

Every year they found new evidence of dumping — lawn chairs, fish trapped in discarded fishing gear, bags of garbage, clothing and rubber tires.

Widespread problem

Morris didn't want to identify the harbours surveyed because, he said, it's a widespread issue and not specific to any particular part of the province.   

"Everywhere you go you've got the same problem. You can go in any harbour from one end of the province to the other and once you go down underwater, everything looks the same."

Household items and building materials were often found sitting on harbour floors. (Submitted by Corey Morris)

Harbours without wharves were much cleaner, he said. But even in communities with newer wharves, the researchers saw debris appearing year after year.

"That's what really raised my concern," he said. "This is still happening. This is still an issue. Like, what are we doing?"

Morris and research technician Daniel Porter will present their findings at a public lecture called "Garbage in N.L. Harbours, Old and New." The talk will happen at the Johnson Geo Centre on Nov. 21 at 7 p.m.

Morris said he wants to raise awareness and prompt people to take action against the continued dumping of garbage into the coastal environment.

"And hopefully people can do their part not to continue this pollution." 

With files from The Broadcast