West Coast Cleanup clears over 200 tonnes of marine debris

For weeks, crews roamed remote sections of the west coast – digging huge fishing nets, pulling lines, throwing thousands of buoys and moving Styrofoam mountains to try and breach the ocean. the wildest shores.

A shocking 210 tonnes of wreckage and plastic trash were cleared in six weeks from just 300 kilometers of the province’s complex 25,000 kilometer coastline during this year’s massive cleanup of the ecologically sensitive tidal flats of the Great Bear Rainforest.

“It’s just perpetual. It continues to be stranded ashore, ”said Scott Benton, executive director of the Wilderness Tourism Association.

“It’s a huge volume of waste. And a very small part of the coast if you consider how many kilometers of coast there are in British Columbia ”

The industrial-scale effort involved a fleet of nine small eco-tourism vessels with a crew of 150 who would otherwise have been out of work in May and June due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Benton said.

The business also required a huge barge, a helicopter, a contingent of small boats and partnerships with the Kitasoo / Xai’xais, Gitga’at, Haisla and Gitxaala nations.

Wilderness tourism staff have collected fishing nets, thousands of buoys and polystyrene mountains in an attempt to breach the ocean litter that ends up on British Columbia’s wildest shores. Photo Jeff Reynolds

But the results speak for themselves as the company, benefiting from previous experience, managed to nearly double the 127 tonnes of trash collected last spring at the inaugural launch of the provincial initiative, Benton said.

In April, the province again backed the initiative, dividing $ 9.5 million from the Clean Coast, Clean Waters Fund to four groups or associations with the goal of eliminating waste from 1,200 kilometers of coastline, or more. 100 abandoned ships along the north coast down. south of Vancouver Island.

In addition to providing pandemic relief to the struggling wilderness tourism sector, the project was a response to the call to action around marine debris in coastal communities, Environment Minister George Heyman said.

“You can feel like you’re putting a bandage on an artery,” Quadra islander Breanne Quesnel says of collecting marine debris. “But we live in this beautiful place, and you just want to do what you can to help, rather than hurt it.”

Complaints from local governments and residents concerned abandoned ships, mooring buoys, styrofoam, aquaculture and fishing debris and single-use plastics, he added.

“The magnitude of the problem is huge and we need to do a lot more to tackle ocean debris and its devastating effects on marine life and food sources,” Heyman said.

The vast majority of ocean trash removed from BC’s pristine shores is plastic, said Jeff Reynolds, biologist and guide at Maple Leaf Adventures, who helped clean up both years.

Each year around the world, around eight million tonnes of plastic waste enters the oceans. This results in a plastic garbage truck being dumped into the sea every minute.

“It’s not just local, the debris is coming from all over the world,” Reynolds said.

The grueling job of picking it up involved scurrying over rough terrain and tangled masses of driftwood to move, stack and sort the trash before loading it onto boats heading for the barge or picking it up by helicopter straight from the sea. beach.

By weight, 50% of what he and his teammates wrestled on the Pacific-exposed shores were nylon fishing nets or lines, Reynolds said. In terms of volume, crumbled foam from docks or floats, as well as plastic buoys or floats, were the most common offenders.

And then there were the ubiquitous plastic bottles. The team probably recovered around 90,000, he said.

Reynolds was encouraged that this year, rather than just throwing the debris in landfills, around 60% of it was sorted for recycling. And despite the work involved, the effort was worth more than just getting a paycheck during the pandemic, he said.

“We all really care about this coast,” he said. “And there was a really amazing response, and I enjoyed being a part of such an impactful program. ”

Quadra Island Beach’s Own Dream Team

Quadra Island resident Breanne Quesnel and her sons Eamon and Rowan sort through marine debris collected by community volunteers. Photo by Rochelle Baker

Over the past two years, the Clean Coast initiative has been the largest organized effort to clean up the shores of the province in British Columbia’s history.

Yet for decades most of the heavy lifting to clean up BC’s beaches was typically done by community volunteers or non-profit groups (ENGOs) who often face funding, infrastructure challenges. or labor.

And the pandemic has not made it easier for coastal communities to protect shorelines, but some groups have persevered.

When Quadra Island resident Breanne Quesnel saw her community’s annual spring beach cleanup canceled due to COVID-19 for a second year, she felt she could help.

There were still many dedicated people picking up the trash, but without the organized annual effort there was nowhere to put it or any way to remove a large amount of debris from the island, said Quesnel, co-owner of Spirit of. the West Kayaking. .

So, Quesnel contacted the regional waste management authority and collaborated to put a 40-yard collection bin in his company’s parking lot.

With costs covered by the regional waste authority, she helped set up a depot where islanders could sort and stack recyclables, and dump the rest of the debris for transport off the island.

“You know, we’re just a private entity, and we could provide the facilities and the manpower to help,” she said.

“There are so many amazing volunteers on Quadra who were busy picking up debris and putting it away, but needed a place to put it.”

Nevil Hand, a resident of Quadra Island, organized the Facebook Quadra Island Beach Clean Dream Team so that volunteers can cooperate to clean up beaches during COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Nevil Hand

Nevil Hand, a retired firefighter, is one of the volunteers who regularly roam the shores of the island.

Frustrated that the pandemic canceled another community cleanup, he organized a Facebook group, the Quadra Island Beach Clean Dream Team, as a way to organize and collaborate with other individual volunteers.

“My motto is: Pick up what you can, where you can, when you can,” Hand said.

People usually pile up the larger beach litter for pickup or use the social media group to communicate with each other about where they cleaned up.

While the dumpster on the island has made things easier, it is still difficult to get any level of government to deal with the larger items that residents cannot handle due to lack of appropriate equipment or transport.

The case in point is a huge industrial marine bumper that washed up on one of the island’s secluded beaches in early spring and has yet to be removed by authorities or its owner.

The structure is at least 60 feet long and is made of loader tires and huge steel beams, he said.

“It’s still there,” Hand said.

“There is no responsibility. The government doesn’t want to find them and the industries leave all their bullshit along the coast and let someone else take care of it.

The people of Quadra Island want greater responsibility from the industry when it comes to cleaning up marine debris. Photo courtesy of Nevil Hand

As the mother and owner of a business that benefits from the coast’s spectacular wilderness, Quesnel said an effort was needed despite the enormity of the ocean’s plastic problem.

“You can feel like you’re putting a bandage on an artery,” Quesnel said.

“When you watch your kids playing on the beach, you wonder what the ocean will be like when they’re older.

“But we live in this beautiful place, and you just want to do what you can to help, rather than hurt it.”

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / National Observer of Canada

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