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COMMENT: The Bay of Fundy is full of junk

Community Editorial Panel with Bruce Graham
Community Editorial Panel with Bruce Graham - Contributed

Community Editorial Panel with Bruce Graham

A lot of the junk is plastic and much of it is unnecessary. In this age of world-wide protest over the environment, how much are we doing in our own backyard? This is cause for concern not only for our beaches and tourist areas, but more importantly, for our marine life, mammals and all the wildlife whose lives depend on the bay.

A friend of mine has been using his free time for an extremely worthwhile cause: cleaning up the beaches. Former lobster fishermen Allen Shepherd has been collecting debris along the coast around his community of Advocate Harbour. It's a big job because the beaches are filled with garbage – mostly fishing gear. Bits of nets, old rope, lobster tags, bait straps, etc. Most of it is coming up the bay from other places. Much of it identified as originating from southwest Nova Scotia and even Maine.

Now we know fishing is a dangerous occupation. Items of the trade do fall overboard and at times in rough weather, gear is swept into the water. However, that is not justification for what is happening here. The amount of junk bobbing up the bay seems more than an accident. This points to deliberate carelessness or worse, a total disregard for the very environment where fishermen work.

I point this out for two reasons.

One: Scientific reports around the globe are telling us plastic particles are in the fish. At Northwestern University in Illinois, researchers are attempting to break down the bonds that makes polyethylene so indestructible. We wish them well, but the work could take years.

Want to kill a multi-million-dollar industry? Shepherd gathers enough garbage to fill several dumpsters. One man and several dumpsters.

Two: The Nova Scotia Fisherman's Association was very vocal about the single turbine in the bay near Parrsboro. When the turbine was lowered into the water, the association carried on about the dangers it posed and what harm it might do to their industry. You would think the turbine was spinning with the speed of the mix-master, chopping up Bay of Fundy fish stock like a blender.

Well at this point the turbines are pipedreams but the debris the fishing industry drops into the water is a brutal reality. If the association wanted to make a big noise about something, there is a huge problem at hand and it has to do at least partly, with attitude.

Advocate Harbour is close to where the bay splits into the Minas Basin and Chignecto Bay. Sure, you can argue the end of the bay is a catch basin because of its location. But that very location signals a warning. There are many nautical miles between Yarmouth and Advocate Harbour. How many tons are deposited by tides and winds and scattered on beaches along the way? How many seabirds and fish die because of it? How many plastic particles are entering our fish stock?

Shepherd has even tried to save seagulls caught up in plastic bait straps that will eventually kill them. Making anything for the fishing industry out of plastic seems irresponsible. Sometimes volunteers join Shepherd in his mission, but they are not fishermen and it is the industry itself that needs a major wake-up call.

Despite the occasional help from those few volunteers, Shepherd must feel at times he's on a solitary mission. Once as an experiment, he left nineteen bags of garbage on the wharf, just to see if anyone would bother picking them up to take to the dump. Nope, trucks came and went for weeks on end, but the bags stayed there for two months. I guess the reality is, if you're not picking up your own garbage, you're not picking up it for someone else.

Bruce Graham is a retired broadcast journalist, author and playwright who lives in Amherst. He is a member of the Amherst News Community Editorial Panel.

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