It’s nice to be on a little island: Reflections from the NCC 2015 Sandy Point cleanup
It’s nice to be on a little island. That was one sentiment shared by a Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) Conservation Volunteer at the annual Sandy Point cleanup; one that seemed to be shared by the dozen volunteers who joined that day.
We were taken to the island located in St. George’s Bay by Search and Rescue volunteers. The island is uninhabited but I was told that if you look closely, signs remain of a settlement that was once the largest in western Newfoundland and an important seaport in the province. Today, there are no structures, with the exception of a tall red and white lighthouse, which overlooks the beaches, sand dunes and salt marshes that dominate the island landscape.
All this to say that when we were dropped off on the island, there was no place for shelter. We were completely exposed to the elements, and on this particular day, we saw many, including wind, rain, sun and what may have been the first hail of the season.
We dispersed across the island to collect whatever garbage we could find. At first glance it looked pristine and untouched, but it didn’t take long before we found garbage. As one volunteer said, “It’s like berries. Once you start spotting it, you can’t stop.”
Rope, a range of plastics and some larger items, including car tires, were among the debris that we collected in the 20-plus bags of garbage in the few hours we spent on the island. It appeared that the majority of the waste was not generated by visitors to the island, but rather had washed up from elsewhere. This was a humbling reminder of the unintended impacts humans can have, including those on ecosystems and environments we may never see.
Different things drew volunteers to Sandy Point. While everyone wanted to come together to clean the island, there were added draws for participants. Birdwatchers were happy to see the shorebirds, which on this particular day included sanderlings, greater yellowlegs and both spotted and white-rumped sandpipers. One volunteer had never been to Sandy Point, but had family ties to the island and had always wanted to visit. For another volunteer, Sandy Point is a favourite summer getaway place for swimming and snorkeling, and this was a way to help keep it clean.
When asked what they liked most about Sandy Point, one volunteer said, ”it’s beautiful here, it’s different than what you see every day.” Another said they enjoyed the remoteness, quiet and the birds. For one individual, it was simply seeing the collective action of people coming together to clean the island that was the reward.
Each year NCC has held this event, there has been less and less garbage. As volunteers we may feel less mighty pulling out fewer bags of trash, but this is a positive trend. Keeping Sandy Point clean supports the very reason it is a protected area: to provide a sanctuary for shorebirds and waterfowl, including the endangered piping plover. Hopefully one day we will reach a point where there is no need for an annual beach cleanup, and we can gather on the island to simply enjoy it.