Tag Archives: marine pollution

What’s in Your Sushi?

by  Patricia Plackett

A summary of a Suzuki Elder Salon held on 26 October 2017, Vancouver, B.C.

The salon was organized by:

Mel Bilko, David Clayton, Erzsi Institorisz, Yiman Jiang, Maria Kim, David Plackett, Patricia Plackett and Erlene Woollard.

Estimates suggest that between 5 and 13 million tonnes of plastic end up in oceans every year.  By 2050 it is projected that there could be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish; understandably, concerns about potential implications for all consumers of marine products are rapidly escalating.

This salon had two related goals – to give participants a deeper understanding of key issues associated with the growing amount of plastic in oceans and to provide them with a chance to discuss what they might do in their daily lives to contribute to solutions.

Four questions were addressed:

Question 1 – How big is the plastic in oceans problem?

Plastic is being used more and more widely because of its durability and other properties, often in rather surprising applications such as fleece jackets, shampoos and teabags. Currently, 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced globally each year and plastic debris has been documented in all marine environments – coastlines, open ocean, sea surface and sea floor as well as deep-sea sediments and Arctic sea ice.

How does plastic end up in the ocean?  —> https://youtu.be/GkV76AqUor4

Question 2 – How serious is the plastic in oceans problem?

Oceanic winds and currents create huge circular whirlpools of plastic – the so-called garbage patches or gyres – that adversely affect marine life. Analyses of marine bird and animal stomach contents reveal an assortment of plastic bottle caps, lighters and pieces of plastic as well as plastic bags. The increasingly small fragments into which oceanic plastic breaks – microplastics – can be mistaken for marine food and the much smaller nanoplastic particles may even cross into the cells of marine organisms and into the human food chain.

David Attenborough in Plastic Oceans film —> https://youtu.be/cX1T79ZKJqM

Question 3 – How much plastic is in seafood?

The marine food chain starts with phytoplankton and progresses up to large marine mammals such as orca whales. Although researchers have found plastic in the phytoplankton consumed by many sea creatures and also in fish and shellfish, they are still working to determine precisely how significantly plastic affects food safety and food security for human beings.

Microplastics entering the food chain —> https://youtu.be/Yu5Dw6rwZvE

Question 4 – Doesn’t recycling help solve the plastic in oceans problem?

Although recycling is becoming more widespread and effective, it is estimated that less than 5% of plastic produced is recycled. It is said that every piece of plastic ever made, regardless of its composition, will be with us forever in one form or another. A recycling plant tour suggests that rather large amounts of plastic intended to be recycled may end up in trash under current recycling practices.

The Zero Waste Lifestyle—> https://vimeo.com/127441759

What about solutions?

It has been argued that we rely far too heavily on plastic for a very wide range of applications and yet we value it so little that much of it ends up as trash, often after a single use. Consequently, the real focus in rethinking plastics should be on placing a much higher value on it, regarding it as treasure and not as trash.

Strategies could involve eliminating applications for which other suitable options exist and also making waste plastic more recyclable into new products as well as adopting Zero Waste Lifestyles that reduce consumer needs for plastic packaging and plastic products.

Inspirational examples demonstrate some progress in finding solutions. Vancouver’s Nada, a zero-waste grocery store, and The Soap Dispensary, the city’s first dedicated refill shop, eliminate the need for plastic packaging. Some local communities have engaged in plastic waste reduction as in the case of Tofino where an exceptionally successful campaign focused on ridding local businesses of plastic straws and providing paper ones only upon request. Globally, there are various examples of products in which plastic has been replaced by other materials such as bagasse in tableware and seaweed in edible sachets and wrappers.

The solutions discussed in each of the salon discussion groups and those proposed at the end of the salon will be presented in subsequent posts on the ReThinking Plastic series on this website. Challenges will also be posted for those wishing to continue learning about the complex problem of plastic in oceans.

As we think about solutions that will reduce the amount of plastic in our oceans, let us remember the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead: “We are continually faced with great opportunities brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems.

We welcome your views. Please share your thoughts under the Leave a comment heading (at the bottom of this post). Watch for related posts on this theme in the coming weeks and months.



Bitumen tankers in confined waters

28 August 2012

Secretary to the Joint Review Panel
Enbridge Northern Gateway Project
444 Seventh Ave SW
Calgary AB T2P 0X8


Dear Secretary ;

I wish to express my serious concern over the logic of shipping, on a regular basis, huge quantities of diluted bitumen in very large tankers through the confined, often treacherous internal waters of northern BC, out into Hecate Strait, and thence to the Pacific.

During 35 years at sea spent largely in BC waters, I sailed the Central / North Coast in ten commercial and naval vessels. My principal involvement grew to be watch keeping, navigation, and the duties of command (XO HMCS STETTLER and PROVIDER; 3rd Officer / Navigator Canadian Cruise Lines SS PRINCE GEORGE; Captain HMCS QU’APPELLE and MACKENZIE).

Fair weather navigation in Douglas Channel, Squally Reach and Caamano Sound requires precision and watchfulness even in a small vessel. The dangers attending a breakdown, miss-step or inattention escalate dramatically as vessel dimensions (and turning characteristics, stopping distance etc.) increase. The deeper the ship’s draft the more constrained the navigable channel becomes. Strong tidal streams and rapidly deteriorating weather further complicate and can wreck the best laid plans for safe navigation.

I have sailed those waters in the flat calm of a sunny summer day, in fog, and in the driving rain squalls and buffeting of an autumn gale. I don’t know Principe Channel, but believe it is no more forgiving of error than the rest of the Inside Passage. As for Hecate Strait, my experience is that it can be idyllic and peaceful at one moment and then, within short hours, become a place of howling winds and mountainous seas such as cause the most experienced seafarers to grit their teeth and hang on tight. I was in the frigate STETTLER there one night when the ship rolled 60 degrees to port, sustaining considerable damage down below. On another occasion, as my friends in the Fleet Oiler PROVIDER related it, the 20,000 ton ship so nearly ‘stood on her nose’ amid the monstrous waves of that extremely shallow sea, that some on the bridge were concerned she might strike bottom. Recognized as the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world, twenty per cent of Hecate Strait has water depth less than 20 metres. I wonder how a vessel drawing 60 or 70 feet might fare in a Hecate Strait storm.

Risk is the product of the likelihood of an occurrence and the consequences thereof. Modern machinery, navigation aids, communications etc. can have a near-zero failure rate, but the people who operate the equipment, though better educated and trained than ever, always have been and likely will remain the major stumbling block to a foolproof system. Look no further than TITANIC, EXXON VALDES, QUEEN of the NORTH, COSTA CONCORDIA. The likelihood of a significant tanker accident between Kitimat and the Pacific may be extremely low but it is finite.

Meanwhile it appears that, as yet, nobody – not even Enbridge – has studied seriously the possibility of a major spill of diluted bitumen in northern BC waters. The outcome could be horrendous. I read that the Canadian Coast Guard is uncertain whether traditional methods of containing and cleaning up a crude oil spill would work for bitumen. How would diluted bitumen be dispersed by wind, sea and tide compared to crude? Is it more likely than crude to sink as the lighter properties evaporate? What toxins does it contain? How would all living things within the scope of such a spill be affected? If not contained or recovered, for how long would it persist as an environmental hazard?

From what the climatologists keep telling us these days and from our experience in recent seasons, it seems prudent to expect that extreme weather incidents will occur with increasing frequency in years to come. And consider: foreign ships do not always measure up to the highest standards of mechanical safety and crew competence.

Very big ships, very narrow channels and extreme weather don’t make a good mix.

I beg you to recognize that the finite likelihood of a tanker accident – no matter how remote-coupled with the potentially catastrophic consequences of a major spill of diluted bitumen into northern BC waters, together constitute a risk no thinking Canadian can afford to accept.

Yours Sincerely,

Roger Sweeny
Commander RCN ret.
Certificate of Service as Master Foreign Going
Qualified Master Home Trade
Member, Association of Suzuki Elders