Columbia III crew with foam plugs, washed up signs and bags of trash. (Columbia III crew photo)

Columbia III crew with foam plugs, washed up signs and bags of trash. (Columbia III crew photo)

Inside the ongoing mission to scrub clean B.C.’s wild beaches

Six-week coastal expedition going to run out of time before it runs out of garbage

What does it take to clean up B.C.’s wild coast?

Black Press Media spoke with Kevin Smith over satellite phone Aug. 31 to find out what it’s like on the front waves.

Smith is expedition leader on a six-week journey to remove ocean debris from remote coastal areas. He is co-owner of the wilderness tour company Maple Leaf Adventures, but when the coronavirus grounded his company’s trips, he and five colleagues decided to keep their crews employed and see how much garbage they could collect.

Nine days in, he said it’s been an emotional journey of seeing how much junk is out there.

“We love this place. We think of it as really pristine, untouched wilderness. But then we get scrambling up all these logs and into the salal, and you find the accumulation of literally decades of debris. It’s hard to see,” he said.

A lot of what they have collected seems to be things that went into the water because of a careless person. But the bulk of it — 60 to 70 percent, he estimates — is from the fishing industry: Long drag lines and dragger balls (“We’ve seen hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands by now, of basketball-sized hard plastic balls”); Nets designed to withstand the corrosive ocean environment that can float for perhaps decades, strangling untold sea life.

Dinner table conversations have revealed a crew perplexed: “Why are they able to get away with this? Why are we seeing this on the coast?”

Trash corralled for pick up. (Expedition crew photo)

The route this clean-up mission has taken so far is parallel to the BC Ferries Inside Passage route — north from Port Hardy up the Hecate Strait, slipping between huge islands and mainland fjords.

The difference is Smith’s convoy of nine boats is concentrating on the outer coast. No slipping between protective islands; they are the only thing between open ocean swells and severe headlands. The boats anchor in open ocean and take zodiacs to land.

“It really takes all of the skill that these crews have to time the swells and drive the boat into the surge channel and have three crew jump off into the rocks and then back the boat off with no drama,” Smith said.

Crew clamber over logs and rocks to extricate debris. (Ocean Adventure crew photo)

People call it a beach clean, but it’s not like walking along Long Beach picking up beer cans and chip bags. Work starts with the drifting piles of logs that jostle against the shore like a floating beach.

“In between the thousands of logs you’ll start to find big foam pieces and long lines. You unweave the ropes from the logs and it might weigh 25 to 30 kilos that you’re able to cut away. Then as you go above the logs you find all the lighter stuff: thousands of foam buoys and Styrofoam, eight feet long and five feet wide with a four-foot circumference. Barrels, propane tanks. We’ve found a couple of freezers. They have insulation so they float,” Smith said.

“Then you start getting up to the salal and where the cedar boughs overhang. I myself picked up a piece of Styrofoam the size of a typical desk. It had been sitting there for, I don’t know, a decade? two decades? A little hole had been created and enough moss and dirt had been stuffed into it, and a spruce tree had planted itself in the hole. So as I’m dragging it down to the water, there’s a one-foot tall tree growing in this thing.”

“That’s not what we want our coast to be.”

The convoy has filled 250 mega bags so far, starting at the south end of Calvert Island working north to Mill Bank Sound at Ivory Island. A tug boat, barge and helicopter follow behind to collect the bags. The B.C. government has committed $3.5 million towards crew wages and fuel costs, as part of its Clean Coast, Clean Waters Initiative Fund.

Heavy marine ropes and nets are tangled in hard to get to places. (Ocean Adventures crew photo)

Smith is a tour operator now, but was a park ranger with BC Parks for nine seasons on the north Island. It was there that he first participated in a helicopter-supported beach clean. His memory of hauling garbage 20 years ago is what gave him the vision to start this expedition.

For Smith and the rest of the expedition members, this trip has been sobering. There’s a sadness, he told the Gazette, being confronted every day with the evidence of humanity’s waste.

“Eventually our ocean will become all micro-plastics if we don’t do this work,” he mused, thinking of the spruce tree growing out of a foam block. In six weeks they now estimate they’ll remove between 75 and 100 tons of trash, but there will be far more left behind.

“We’re going to run out of time and we’re definitely not going to run out of garbage.”

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca


GarbageOcean Protection

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Washed up plastics on log fields. (Simon Ager / Maple Leaf Adventures photo)

Washed up plastics on log fields. (Simon Ager / Maple Leaf Adventures photo)

Just Posted

(Pixabay)
‘Roadmap out of COVID-19’: Innovate BC’s program helping businesses recover

CEO Raghwa Gopal said the tech sector is here to help brick and mortar businesses

(Pixabay photo)
COVID-19 exposure confirmed at Kelowna school

Interior Health confirmed the exposure at Central Programs and Services on Jan. 25

Protesting farmers and their families gather around a bonfire to mark the harvest festival, which is called Lohri, on a blocked highway in protest against new farm laws on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. Changes in India’s farm laws could potentially open up one of the world’s most populous markets and are being closely watched by Canada’s agricultural and economic sectors, say experts. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Altaf Qadri
UBCO students asking for support in raising funds for Indian farmers

UBCO’s Bhangra Club and Punjabi Student Association are raising funds for Khalsa Aid

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin makes preparations at Toronto’s mass vaccination clinic, Jan. 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
3 deaths, 234 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

One death connected to outbreak at Kamloops’ Royal Inland Hospital, where 20 patients and 28 staff have tested positive

People in Kelowna’s City Park on May 18, 2020. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Downtown Kelowna’s City Park scheduled for facelift

Designs for the future of City Park unveiled; construction to begin fall 2021

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

FILE – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his opening remarks at a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine CEO ‘very, very clear’ that Canada’s contracts will be honoured: Trudeau

Trudeau says he spoke to Moderna CEO on the morning of Jan. 26

Ben Tyler was working on a Nicola area ranch when he disappeared. File photo
Ben Tyler was working on a Nicola area ranch when he disappeared. File photo
2 years after his riderless horse was found, police believe Merritt cowboy was killed

Two years after he went missing, Ben Tyner’s family makes video plea for information

A ground worker wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 unloads lobsters from a WestJet Airlines flight at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on Thursday, January 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Trudeau teases stricter travel measures; Canadians flying to U.S. now need COVID test

Prime minister says measures need to not hurt imports and essential trade

A proposed development would see two four-storey apartment buildings erected on Adair Street in Armstrong, next to the Nor-Val Sports Centre. Council voted 6-1 Monday, Jan. 25, in favour of rezoning the property. (Google Maps)
Okanagan city paves way for potential affordable housing project

Armstrong council votes 6-1 to rezone an Adair Street city-owned property despite opposition

The shirts sell for $45, with 30 per cent of proceeds from each sale going to Battered Women’s Support Services in Vancouver. (Madame Premier/Sarah Elder-Chamanara)
Canadian company launches ‘hysterical’ T-Shirt to combat health officials’ use of word

A partnership with Tamara Taggart will see women broadcast the word on a T-shirt or tote bag

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

ICBC has seen savings on crash and injury claims in the COVID-19 pandemic, with traffic on B.C. roads reduced. (Penticton Western News)
ICBC opens online calculator for rate savings starting in May

Bypassing courts expected to save 20% on average

Salmon Arm RCMP search a property in the 700 block of Grandview Bench Road in March 2019, assisting Edmonton police with an investigation that led to the arrest of a Salmon Arm man man who was charged in relation to an Edmonton bank robbery and a related explosions. (File photo)
Salmon Arm man accused in Edmonton bank explosions in court for weapon offences

Local provincial court appearances for charges including possessing weapon for dangerous purpose

Most Read