Banner Photo Credit: Stephen Hargreaves
Human activity has a lasting impact on our oceans – although its effects are not always obvious. Years after many persistent organic chemicals (POPs) were phased out of use in Canada, tests show these legacy pollutants are still present in many organisms along the west coast. Samples of seabird eggs in B.C. also show contaminants such as mercury, flame-retardants and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) are making their way to the top of the food chain. Meanwhile, microplastics from man-made products such as microbeads and fibres from synthetic textiles have emerged as a new area of concern for marine health as they too enter the food chain. These harmful substances are linked to everything from disruption of immune and reproductive systems to starvation.
Given the threat contamination poses to marine and human life, careful monitoring of water quality and cleanup efforts are more important than ever. Conservation groups are stepping up to the plate. In 2015, the Coastal Ocean Research Institute launched its PollutionTracker program with 55 sites across B.C. sampled and tested for a large array of contaminants. As well, environmental agencies have been keeping a close eye on radiation levels in west coast waters following the Fukushima nuclear disaster caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami off of Tohoku, Japan. While some radiation has been detected in B.C.’s coastal waters, levels remain far below those considered harmful to human or animal health.
Back on land, however, debris from the tsunami, and other marine pollution, has washed up on all B.C.’s shorelines. On the west coast of Vancouver Island, it has been met by an army of dedicated shoreline cleanup volunteers. Each summer for three years, more than 10 metric tons of garbage was removed from beaches along the iconic West Coast Trail in an effort to preserve and restore this critical coastal habitat. As our oceans face increased pressure from human activity, it is imperative that we keep a close eye on the underwater world and remember that the ocean connects us all.
Ocean Watch Rating Legend
Ratings are meant to provide the reader with a visual snapshot summary about the subject. Subject ratings were assigned by the Coastal Ocean Research Institute based on application of the criteria to the information in each article.
1) The status is healthy according to available data, 2) the trend is positive if known, 3) some data are available, and/or 4) actions to address or mitigate are well underway and are known to be effective. Actions should be taken to maintain positive status and/or trend.
Status, trend, data, and/or actions provide contradictory or inconclusive information. Actions are needed to move into positive status and trend and avoid negative status and trend.
1) Impacts or issues are high risk or have resulted in a low or vulnerable status, 2) improvements are uncertain, minor, or slow, and/or 3) actions to address or mitigate are non-existent, vague, or have low effectiveness. Actions are needed to move into positive status and trend.
Not rated due to the nature of the article, or there are not enough data to produce an assessment.
PCBs in Sediments and Mussels
Starting in 2015, the Coastal Ocean Research Institute launched PollutionTracker, a coastwide initiative aimed at monitoring pollution levels at 55 sites along the B.C. coast. As human activity continues to impact the marine environment, the initiative is an important tool in monitoring how and where legacy pollutants and contemporary contaminants continue to impact coastal ecosystems.
From microbeads to fibres from fleece and other textiles, microplastics are finding their way into marine ecosystems and entering the food chain.
Radiation after Fukushima
Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, agencies began monitoring waters of coastal B.C. for radiation contamination. While radiation associated with the disaster has been detected, levels determined to date are far below those considered harmful to human or marine health.
Persistent Organic Pollutants in Seals
Despite the phasing out of many persistent organic pollutants (POPs) from industrial use in Canada, marine organisms are still testing positive for these harmful chemicals. Careful monitoring of indicator species, such as harbour seals, is an important tool in tracking contaminant hotspots and identifying new substances of concern.
Contaminant Trends in Seabirds
Due to their status at the top of the food chain, seabirds are an important indicator of contaminant levels in marine ecosystems and the effectiveness of regulations. Long-term studies show substances like mercury, brominated flame-retardants, and PFAs are present at different levels in various seabird populations.
Between 2014 and 2016, more than 10 metric tons of marine debris was removed annually from the west coast of Vancouver Island, much of it tsunami debris from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake off the coast of Japan.