Repurposing discarded rope with #DebrisFreeFundy

SAINT ANDREWS – “Sorry, I didn’t get back to you sooner,” Courtney Piercy, community outreach and engagement specialist at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre (Huntsman) wrote in an email to The Saint Croix Courier, “I was out collecting rope.”

Through its #DebrisFreeFundy initiative, the non-profit Huntsman is determined to make a positive impact on the local marine environment. Piercy had been collecting for a rope repurposing workshop held on Feb. 10 at the Huntsman, 1 Lower Campus Rd., Saint Andrews, as part of the #DebrisFreeFundy’s goal of educating the public about marine debris. In a two-hour workshop, participants made floor mats from discarded marine rope.

Debris threatens ocean habitats and marine wildlife. The rope workshop literature states “…old fishing rope breaks down into microplastics, which are so small it is virtually impossible to remove from the marine environment thereby requiring attention to remove while the discarded rope still exists in larger pieces.” The Nature Trust of New Brunswick website cites 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean every year and gives the sobering prediction that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish by weight.

#DebrisFreeFundy began in 2016 to target the problem of marine debris in the Bay of Fundy. The Marine Debris Strategy Action Committee is currently on the last year of a five-year plan to accomplish its goals through “removal, reduction and public education efforts,” says Piercy.

This past summer, the education and removal goals were met with the Huntsman hosting “Public and bubble shoreline cleanups where volunteers learned about the impacts of marine debris and were able to take action to help make a difference,” says Piercy. The largest multi-partner clean-up days are World Oceans Day in June and the Great Fundy Coastal Cleanup in August. In 2019, the #DebrisFreeFundy website communicates, 192 volunteers collected 2,598 m of rope and 2,552 pieces of plastic at 23 sites along the shores of the bay.

“The discarded rope primarily comes from the fishing and aquaculture industries,” says Piercy. The goal of diverting the amount of old rope to the Bay of Fundy is met through rope collection bins placed on wharves that the Huntsman and its partners monitor. A pilot project started with four bins in 2018. Now there are 27 bins across southwest New Brunswick, recently including Campobello and White Head islands. Since 2018, “we have collected over 18,000 kg of rope,” says Piercy.

The rope repurposing workshops began in 2018 and have seen 207 participants to date. Piercy selects the best rope from the bins for the workshops, or more specifically, the best rope that hasn’t been harvested by other crafters who also use the collection bins for retrieving supplies. Several times a year, different workshops instruct in how to make mats, wreaths or baskets. The next repurposed rope workshops will be held in March.

March is also the deadline month for the third annual Marine Debris Student Art Contest. New Brunswick students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 are invited to enter their hand-created art by March 18. The centre puts together a calendar from the winning submissions. The creations must address the questions of how does marine debris impact the Bay of Fundy, what will you do to help keep our oceans debris free, and what does a healthy ocean mean to you?

Entries can be sent to marinedebris@huntsmanmarine.ca or by visiting the Huntsman. Piercy says the contest received 100 entries last year and the winning entries will go into the 2023 calendar.

liangoodall@advocateprinting.com