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

The Terrace River Kings lost 9-3 to the Quesnel Kangaroos on Mar. 2, 2019 in the final CIHL playoffs. (Lindsay Chung Photo)
Central Interior Hockey League cancels 2020/21 season

League open to playing exhibition games if possible

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
41 positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Kitimat RCMP were requesting assistance locating 24-year-old Teah Wilken, who was last seen getting on a bus at City Centre Mall in Kitimat around 6:30 p.m. Monday (Nov. 23). Kitimat RCMP Facebook photo.
UPDATE: missing woman found safe at residence

Wilken last seen getting on bus at City Centre Mall in Kitimat around 6:30 p.m. Monday (Nov. 23)

Randy Bell. File photo.
Former Smithers council candidate arrested for refusing to wear mask

Randy Bell handcuffed and given a warning at Bulkley Valley Credit Union

Salvation Army Christmas kettle campaign. File photo.
Kettle campaign delayed, kicks off Nov. 27

Salvation Army’s annual fundraiser to look different this year, thanks to COVID, tap option available

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

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

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Barrels pictured outside Oliver winery, Quinta Ferreira, in May. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
B.C. Master of Wine reflects on industry’s teetering economic state

Pandemic, for some wine makers, has been a blessing in disguise. For others, not so much.

Most Read