Nipigon Bay Beach Cleanup Nets Almost 200,000 “Nurdles”

Nipigon Bay International Coastal Cleanuup
Participants in the September 16th Nipigon Bay International Coastal Cleanup. View more pictures of the cleanup (Photos: J. Bailey/

About thirty-five people participated in a beach cleanup on Nipigon Bay, Saturday, September 16th. The cleanup was focused on Rainboth point, just east of Gravel River, between Nipigon and Rossport. Parks Canada organized the event utilizing staff of the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, which has an office in Nipigon. Assistance was also provided by the Nipigon Bay Remedial Action Plan. The effort was part of the International Coastal Cleanup, which takes place on the same day at locations around the world.

Participants split into two groups, one focused on the south portion of Rainboth Point and primarily focused on microbeads, the small plastic beads, or “nurdles,” which have been washing up on beaches in this part of Lake Superior for several years. The other group made their way to the eastern side of Rainboth Point to pick up any scattered debris. There are many camps and homes along the shoreline at Rainboth Point. Beautiful sand beaches form the southern extremity of the point, while a unique cobble beach forms the eastern side of the point. The eastern side has been designated as the Gravel River Provincial Nature Reserve.

The cleanup of the plastic beads, which are about the size of very small pebbles, or large grains of sand, required substantial effort. Some volunteers picked up the nurdles by hand while others utilized a screen mesh system to separate the nurdles from sand and woody debris. As the photos and video clips demonstrate (the longest clip is 21″), the problem of plastic beads washing up on beaches in Nipigon Bay is very substantial. Indeed, they almost look like snow covering the beach in some areas. Volunteers were happy to help cleanup efforts however many stated that much more effort needs to be put into prevention. This premise is based on the rationale that cleanup is difficult and it would be much easier to prevent them entering Lake Superior in the first place. Nurdles are the raw material for manufacturing all manner of plastic items. The Nipigon Bay nurdles are from a train wreck which happened in January, 2008.

Students from Lakehead University’s Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism program participated in the cleanup and tallied the volume of nurdles collected by all volunteers. They arrived at a total of approximately 34 Liters/36 quarts and a grand total of approximately 198,282 beads.

Debris scattered on beaches is nothing new to anyone frequenting sites around Lake Superior and the Great Lakes and some of the items found by volunteers on the nature reserve beach included:

  • An empty oil drum with many holes and slices in the metal (and no label)
  • A puffer
  • a water gun (made of foam & plastic)
  • 2 fishing lures
  • a fabric flower (still intact for the most part)
  • 20 ft of rubberized tubing
  • multiple pieces of plastic, metal, and containers
  • cigarette packaging
  • 50 POUNDS GARBAGE TOTAL (not including nurdles – see separate tally above in this article for nurdles)

All participants enjoyed working together on the cleanup and the event was a great way for everyone to get to know one another. Additionally, several volunteers had heard of the nurdles but never seen them. This hands-on event was a great learning mechanism.

Thanks to Parks Canada and staff of the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area for putting together an excellent event. Thanks to Lakehead University Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism program instructor Julie Rosenthal and her class for their participation. Thanks also to members of the Nipigon Bay Remedial Action Plan Public Advisory Committee who volunteered. A Special word of thanks to Nipigon Bay Remedial Action Plan Public Advisory Committee member Chuck Hutterli and his wife Danielle for hosting the event. Chuck and Danielle have done a great deal of work to raise awareness about the problem of microplastics in Nipigon Bay and Lake Superior.

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