Environmental group having hard time cleaning up Murray Harbour beach

A P.E.I. environmental group is having a hard time cleaning up aquaculture farming gear that washes up on P.E.I. shorelines.

Dozens of Styrofoam mussel buoys have washed ashore

The Southeast Environmental Association says Styrofoam buoys break down easily, and can be difficult to clean up. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

A P.E.I. environmental group is having a hard time cleaning up aquaculture farming gear that washes up on P.E.I. shorelines. 

Dozens of mussel buoys have washed ashore, and are scattered along a beach off Gladstone Road in Murray Harbour, and into the woods. 

"Those Styrofoam buoys, once they start to break down, it's just like getting a box of something you had shipped in, and you have all of that Styrofoam that just sticks to everything. And it just breaks down to the smallest particles," says Jackie Bourgeois, executive director of the Southeast Environmental Association. 

'It's disappointing'

The association organizes beach cleanups every year. Last year, Bourgeois says the group found thousands of pieces of ropes, nets and other kinds of gear from fishing and aquaculture in the area. 

"Well of course it's disappointing to see that washing up," Bourgeois said. Though she said she understands some factors, like adverse weather causing buoys to break free, are beyond anyone's control. 

Jackie Bourgeois with the Southeast Environmental Association says it's disappointing to see aquaculture debris wash ashore. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

She said having Styrofoam wash ashore is bad for the environment, and thinks it might also have a negative impact on tourism, and how people perceive the Island. 

"It's not good for people to be walking along the beaches and finding this garbage," Bourgeois said. 

Farmers try to reduce risk

The P.E.I. Aquaculture Alliance, which represents industry groups, says farmers do their best to reduce the risk of losing gear. He also said the alliance organizes a shoreline cleanup each year. 

"Nobody wants to lose any of their gear, and for it to come loose," says Peter Warris, director of projects and industry liaison.

As far as I'm aware, you are seeing less of the use of the Styrofoam buoys.- Peter Warris

"Obviously it happens. Storms, a lot of stuff will come loose over the winter, potentially. So that's generally why we have the shoreline cleanup week earlier in the year."

Warris said he doesn't think there's much else the alliance can do in terms of preventative measures. He did say the group is generally open to partnering with watershed groups if they are organizing beach cleanups. 

Gear retrieval efforts 

P.E.I. Fishermen's Association executive director Ian MacPherson said while there are no organized beach cleanups for fishermen, many of them take the initiative to do cleanups themselves.

He also said fishers help maintain waste and debris on P.E.I.'s harbours and wharves.

"We're seeing some good efforts there," MacPherson said. 

There are also new measures from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans focused on reporting, locating and retrieving lost gear, put in place to help protect North Atlantic Right Whales. 

Environmentally friendly alternatives 

Bourgeois said she understands that gear will sometimes come loose and wash ashore. She said she would like to see more products made out of more environmentally friendly materials.

Warris said that is something that is beginning to change within the mussel industry. 

Dozens of Styrofoam mussel buoys have washed ashore at a beach in Murray Harbour. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

"As far as I'm aware, you are seeing less of the use of the Styrofoam buoys and now more of the hard plastic ones, there's a lot more of those out there," Warris said. 

And both the association and the alliance said if anyone comes across aquaculture gear on Island shores, they can contact the groups, so they will know where to target cleanup efforts. 

More P.E.I. News 

With files from Nicole Williams