Beach Cleanups Quantify Plastic Pollution
Posted on: December 14, 2018
Confederation College Environmental Technician students participated in an October 12th microplastics sampling and beach cleanup event at Thunder Bay’s Chippewa Beach on Lake Superior. (Photo: W. Vander Ploeg/

Terrace Bay Surfers Assist with Beach Cleanup

EcoSuperior and Confederation College have partnered to conduct beach cleanups and microplastics sampling events on beaches throughout Northwestern Ontario. The procedure being used was developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program and involves collecting sand samples from regional beaches followed by lab analysis at Confederation College. The analysis will determine the presence of microplastics and in what quantities microplastics are found. Data will be submitted to national organizations to help determine best management practices moving forward.  

On Friday October 12th, 2018, Environmental Technician students from Confederation College and Program Coordinators from EcoSuperior braved the icy breeze of Lake Superior and headed to Chippewa Park to conduct a microplastics sampling and beach cleanup event. The students’ participation in the cleanup and follow-up lab exercise contributes to requirements for fall field school, which counts as a diploma credit. EcoSuperior organized an additional cleanup the following weekend (Saturday, October 20th) in partnership with Waasaashkaa: A Gathering of the Great Lakes Surfers. This cleanup and sampling event was located on Main Beach, Lake Superior, in Terrace Bay. Surfers helped the EcoSuperior team collect samples along Main Beach and enjoyed laughs and snacks by the fire after the cleanup commenced. Both cleanups were well received, and the short presentations, prepared by EcoSuperior staff, educated the students and surfers on the presence of plastic debris within Lake Superior. 

Beach Cleanups Contribute to National Database

The cleanups consisted of dividing the shoreline into equal sized sections by running transects across the beach at equal distances apart. Participants then numbered the sections and collected all plastic and garbage within their section; sand samples were also taken from the nearshore and farshore environments in each section. The debris that was collected by Confederation College students will be analyzed in the lab later to determine the composition of the trash collected (e.g. cigarette butts, foam pieces, coffee cups). This data will be submitted to the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup database.

Microplastics Affect Aquatic Organisms

By completing shoreline cleanups and submitting data to larger databases, Canadians can work together to combat the microplastic problem that has been emerging within our marine and freshwater systems. With baseline data being collected, results can be studied to determine the effects of ingestion of microplastics on aquatic organisms. The data may also be used to track the amount and likely sources of microplastics entering the Great Lakes. By conducting shoreline cleanups and microplastics sampling events we can work together to combat the problem that microplastics pose to our Great Lakes. 

All manner of plastic debris was found during beach cleanups in Terrace Bay and Thunder Bay, Ontario, organized by EcoSuperior Environmental Programs and Confederation College. (Photo: W. Vander Ploeg/

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is a national conservation program that provides Canadians the opportunity to take action and lead or participate in a cleanup event in their community. This data tracks the amount of shoreline cleaned and the specific types of garbage that are most common. Shoreline cleanup data is then used to raise awareness of the plastic pollution problem within the Great Lakes.

Main Beach on Lake Superior at Terrace Bay, Ontario, site of an EcoSuperior beach cleanup. Plastic debris can be found on virtually any beach on Lake Superior, in both Canada and USA. (Photo: W. Vander Ploeg/

EcoSuperior and Confederation College  received funding from the TD Bank Friends of the Environment Foundation to sample for microplastics and conduct beach cleanups at three beaches along the north shore of Lake Superior.

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