Young patrons check out a sea star during the Ucluelet Aquarium’s Plastic Free Market event held in celebration of World Oceans Day on June 8. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

VIDEO: Ucluelet Aquarium hosts plastic-free market

"A lot of people feel like they can't make a difference."

Vendors from the West Coast, Victoria and the mainland had a wide variety of plastic alternatives on display at the Ucluelet Aquarium’s first Plastic-Free Market event held in celebration of World Oceans Day on Friday.

Emily Beeson, a marine biologist and administrator at the aquarium, said the inaugural event fits in with the aquarium’s mission to promote respect for local ocean ecosystems.

“Everyone here is really, really, passionate about the oceans. We’re passionate about what lives inside of them and we are seeing the oceans everyday. Every time we go out collecting, every time we’re out there exploring and snorkeling, we are seeing plastics,” she said noting the aquarium’s ongoing microplastics survey has found plastics at every beach it’s studied so far.

“We’re seeing the results of all the plastic that people are using and so it’s really motivated us to try to find solutions and one of the things that we can do as consumers is make educated purchases.”

She said exposing people to plastic-free alternatives to everyday items like bags, water bottles and toothbrushes, helps show that simple changes can have an impact and also gets people thinking about other ways they can help the ocean survive.

“I’m really happy with the turnout. I wasn’t sure what to expect because this was our first year, but the vendors that came out were incredible,” Beeson said. “Everyone has been super amazing and everyone’s really excited to do this.”

Kristen O’Keefe of The Den Studios in Ucluelet said being surrounded by sea creatures within the aquarium provided the perfect ambience for a plastic-free event and that the market sparked discussions around plastic alternatives.

“Plastic-free markets are amazing,” she said. “They definitely bring awareness to the consumer that there are some options and that you can shop without having to buy plastics.”

Stewart Lampe of The Soap Dispensary and Kitchen Staples in Vancouver said plastic consumption has become a hot topic, but many people feel helpless trying to avoid plastic packaging and products.

“A lot of people feel like they can’t make a difference,” he said. “A market like this allows you to figure out ways to lessen your individual impact and feel better about it.”

Kelby Holmes, who heads the Surfrider Pacific Rim Foundation’s Stitch and Beach program said everyone must take steps to reduce the harm humans are having on the ecosystems around them.

“There’s so many other things in this world other than us, especially in the ocean. There’s different animals and different life and I feel like plastic is one thing that’s man made and is polluting every environment. It’s just breaking down and it’s not disappearing so we need to change our practices to make things better for everyone else and everything else on the planet.”

Brian Bruzzese of Tuff Town Toys said plastic is covering beaches and shorelines and being consumed by wildlife.

“There’s too much plastic out there…I don’t think we can be totally [plastic] free, but being as close as you can get is good for the environment,” he said. “By being more responsible, we can do better and keep this world a little cleaner.”

Tofino local Cory Price was happy to gain innovative ideas for reducing his environmental impact while browsing the market’s wares.

“I’ve been trying to get more into zero waste personally because, as an individual, I’m just trying to do my part to help out the environment and Mother Nature,” he said. “I think it’s really important to keep the world and the oceans clean and this is one small step in making that happen.”

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