Plastics entering harbour with snow could harm marine life, biologist says

Josh Pennell
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A local biologist is concerned that the snow being dumped into St. John’s harbour may contain something far more lethal to sea life: garbage.

“In effect, what they’re doing is dumping potentially many tonnes of (plastics),” says Memorial University biologist Ian Jones.

Jones does quite a bit of walking, and with recent snowstorms, confusion following power outages and city rescheduling, he noticed garbage and recyclables that couldn’t be collected on time sticking out of snowbanks. He figures at least some of that garbage and plastic is ending up in the harbour, where the snow gets dumped by back-end loaders during snowclearing operations.

According to Jones, that garbage, including the plastic, eventually makes its way out to sea and is extremely harmful to marine life.

“As far as I know the deliberate dumping of garbage into the ocean is illegal,” Jones says.

Jones has found plastic in the corpses of small seabirds known as dovekies that he collected near Holyrood. He’s not saying that plastic came from dumping garbage in the harbour, but it does illustrate how marine animals will ingest plastic if it comes into contact with it. There’s also the issue of other forms of marine life, such as sea turtles, getting plastic caught around them.

Jones wonders why the snow isn’t dumped into the vast open areas at Robin Hood Bay. There, after the snow melts, the waste could be put with the other trash.

The city does dump some of its snow at other sites, including Robin Hood Bay, although much of it does go into the harbour.

Plastic in the oceans is a growing concern for scientists around the world, as the scope of how much garbage is floating around out there becomes more clearly understood. The waste doesn’t break down and is known to travel with currents all over the globe.

St. John’s is not the only port city that dumps snow into its harbour, and Jones says there is an easy solution to this issue — dump elsewhere.

“We have a lot of environmental problems and a lot of them have simple solutions.”

The City of St. John’s was contacted about this issue, but did not respond as of deadline.

Geographic location: Robin Hood Bay, Holyrood

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