Tomorrow is Earth Day! This week we celebrated by taking the kids on a nurdle hunt. (Yes, you read that right.) What are they? Nurdles are small plastic pellets about the size of lentils that are poured into moulds and melted into plastic products. Transportation accidents and mishandling by industry results in billions of nurdles spilled into the ocean each year. Once in the water, they attract and absorb pollutants. Marine creatures mistake them for food and eat them. This has a disastrous effect on the food chain. Like all plastic waste, nurdles never disappear. Instead, they break into progressively smaller pieces that are ingested by tiny creatures in the ecosystem.

Throughout the year, learners in the middle school have been collaborating on a project with Surfrider Foundation. Each month they visit the same beach at Dallas Road to collect garbage. Back at the school they sort, classify and record data about their finds. Over the year they have tracked trends, noting if there are seasonal variations in the types of garbage they are finding. This week our middle school students mentored the elementary classes during a beach cleanup at Cadboro Bay.

After Lynn from Surfrider showed them examples of what they were looking for, the learners received gloves and bags and headed out to pick garbage. At first, we all thought the beach looked pretty clean, but the older students taught us that we had to look closely and dig in the sand around the driftwood. Very quickly we found what we were looking for, and then the race was on for each child to find 100 pieces of plastic waste. Along with nurdles we found small pieces of broken plastic. We easily reached our goal, and by the time we had to leave, we could see that there were still lots more that we hadn’t managed to gather.

Our nurdle hunt this week was an eye-opening experience. From now on I plan to throw a small sieve in my bag each time I go to the beach. Imagine what a difference it would make if, along with building sand castles, kids all over the community gather nurdles each time they visit a beach this summer.

We can help by cleaning up the mess, but more effectively, we can help to prevent it from happening in the first place by reducing our use of plastic – take reusable shopping bags to the store, reduce our purchases of plastic toys, stop buying drinks in plastic cups, etc.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!