Volunteers Collect Over 145, 000 Lake Superior “Nurdles”


Nurdles at Mountain Bay
Nurdles mixed with debris at the high water mark of waves washing ashore at Rainboth Point, Mountain Bay, Lake Superior, June 10th, 2018 (photo: jfbailey/infosuperior.com)

Thanks to Everyone Who Participated

Twenty-five volunteers attended a Lake Superior beach cleanup at Mountain Bay on June 10th. Mountain Bay is located on the Canadian shore of Lake Superior some 50 km east of the community of Nipigon. The cleanup was organized by Parks Canada, the organization developing the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area. The Nipigon Bay Remedial Action Plan also assisted. Special thanks to George and Flora Osborn who generously hosted volunteers on their property.

Parks Canada organized the June 10th beach cleanup on Nipigon Bay with assistance from the Nipigon Bay Remedial Action Plan. Residents of Mountain Bay, Nipigon, Rossport and Schreiber volunteered. (Photo: jbailey/infosuperior.com)

Parks Canada and InfoSuperior staff, with volunteers from Nipigon, Mountain Bay, Rossport and Schrieber, collected approximately 145, 392 nurdles over a 4 hour period. Nurdles are small pieces of plastic, which are the raw material for production of most articles made from plastic. The nurdles, along with sand and debris, which was impossible to sort out, filled three 30L/8 gal. bins. Nurdles were collected by hand, using screens, sieves, brooms, shovels and even a makeshift sluice that was developed by Mountain Bay resident Chuck Hutterli.

To count the nurdles, the entire quantity was separated into 52 even parts, one of which was counted and determined to contain 2,796 nurdles. This number was then multiplied by 52 for an estimated total of 145,392 nurdles.

Stop Plastic Pollution Before it Enters the Lake

Cleanup is very helpful in addressing the Nipigon Bay nurdles situation (background info below). Parks Canada and all volunteers deserve thanks.  Several volunteers expressed frustration at the difficulty of nurdle cleanup, learning first-hand that cleaning up plastic pollution after it hits the lake is a difficult  “end of pipe” solution. Moving forward, several volunteers expressed the opinion that everyone using the lake and its watershed, whether for recreational or commercial purposes, should put prevention first. They said emphasis should be placed on stopping plastic pollution before it enters the lake.

This sluice developed by Mountain Bay resident Chuck Hutterli was a “high volume producer,”
effective at separating nurdles from sand and debris. Here, Parks Canada staff member Petri Bailey operates the sieve.
Nurdles? In Lake Superior? What are they and why are they here?

People have been hearing about “microplastics” for years now, especially in the oceans, but nurdles, in Lake Superior? Nurdles, classified as microplastics under Canadian legislation, are round, tabular pieces of plastic, approximately 5 mm (3/16th of an inch) across and perhaps a couple of millimetres (1/16th of an inch) thick. They are the raw material for nearly all things plastic and they are produced in the billions – every year. Needless to say, nurdles need to be shipped to facilities producing plastic products and one such transport ended in a train wreck just west of Rossport, Ontario, near Lake Superior.

The train wreck was in January, 2008 and now, more than ten years later, the nurdles continue to appear on Lake Superior beaches, perhaps even more than previously. On a remote stretch of beach on the Canadian side of Lake Superior these small pieces of plastic are mixed with natural debris, littering the beach and forming the high water mark where waves sweep the shore. When accidents happen, like the train wreck in 2008 , nurdles end up in our waterways and on our beaches where they can be ingested by fish, birds and other wildlife.

How Extensive Can This Plastic Pollution Be?

When storms wash large quantities of nurdles ashore (they float), nurdles can appear like snow covering the beach – in summer. At the June 10th cleanup, Virginia McCollum of Schreiber, who helped out with her husband Bruce, expressed indignation that more hadn’t been done to clean up. She referenced Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) saying she hoped they would pitch in. Other North Shore residents went so far as to say they wouldn’t participate in a cleanup, saying the actions of volunteers only “enabled” CPR to avoid their environmental responsibilities. CPR’s Jeffrey Piester, an environmental officer with the company, says over $2 million has already been spent on cleanup. He expressed interest in further, ongoing cooperative efforts but so far, no specific plan has been put forward.

Mountain Bay resident Chris Leale delivers water for the sluice used in separating nurdles from beach debris. (Photo: jbailey/infosuperior.com)

InfoSuperior has received numerous reports of the nurdles from distant points on Lake Superior.

In May, InfoSuperior  received a call from Brenda Grundt who runs the Wawa-News online newspaper. Brenda said she had observed nurdles on Michipicoten Bay’s stunningly beautiful Sandy Beach. She followed up with an article in the Wawa-News. Wawa is approximately 242 km./150 mi. from Rossport, so the nurdles have moved over long distances.

Subsequently, Leo Lepiano, Lands and Resources Consulting Coordinator at Michipicoten First Nation, got in touch with InfoSuperior to say he was observing nurdles on Wawa area beaches.

Dave Tamblyn, Chair of Lakehead University’s Board of Governors contacted InfoSuperior through Facebook to say he constantly observes nurdles on beaches in the Rossport area where he lives.

Paul Turpin, who runs Discovery Charters out of Rossport, got in touch to say he would be glad to pitch in to locate any larger quantities of nurdles on Rossport area islands. Then, while kayaking in the Wawa area on the weekend of June 2nd/3rd, Infosuperior staff observed the nurdles themselves on otherwise pristine beaches.

This observation was backed up by Lake Superior kayak guides Jake O’Flaherty and Jennifer Upton from Naturally Superior Adventures who said they have observed the nurdles on beaches in many parts of the lake. Jake and Jennifer, who paddle many remote areas of Superior on a frequent basis, volunteered to communicate further sightings/locations to InfoSuperior.

Jake O'Flaherty
Kayak guide Jake O’Flarhety paddling Superior near Wawa, Ontario, June 3rd. Jake and fellow Naturally Superior Adventures kayak guide Jennifer Upton will be reporting on sightings of nurdles as they visit remote Lake Superior locations. (photo: jbailey/infosuperior.com)

Have You Seen Nurdles? Get in Touch With InfoSuperior

In short, nurdles are a big problem. Do they all come from one train wreck? Hard to say but there are plenty to go around. Have you seen nurdles on Lake Superior shores? Please get in touch if you have. Maybe take a picture or two and note your specific location. InfoSuperior would especially like to hear from people on the U.S. side of the lake, in order to document the extent of the problem. InfoSuperior can be reached through jfbailey at lakeheadu dot ca (email addresses attract spam, hence the preceding “long form” version of the email).

In the meantime…your lake, your choice. Lets do everything we can to prevent the mess which is plastic pollution.



Ooctober 1st, 2017 Infosuperior Post: “Nipigon Bay Beach Cleanup Nets Almost 200,000 “Nurdles

May 10th, 2016 Infosuperior Post: “Nipigon Nurdles Meeting Summary

April 26th, 2016 Infosuperior Post: “Nipigon Nurdles Issue Gains Traction

April 20th, 2016 Infosuperior Post: “Nurdles in Nipigon Bay: Local Microplastics Concerns



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