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

Titan Sparks, who attends Grade 3 at Deep Cove Elementary, plants a seedling to help replace trees damaged by climate change near Deep Cove Elementary. (Louise Beaudry/Submitted)
North Saanich school plants a seed in the fight against climate change

Students at Deep Cove Elementary plant seedlings to replace downed trees

A peacock struts by a pair of lamb siblings at the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm, which remains closed to the public. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
VIDEO: Victoria petting zoo optimistic about future after 13 months closed

Public helps non-profit Beacon Hill Children’s Farm with nearly $100,000 influx

Island Health declared a COVID-19 outbreak in two houses at the Mount St. Mary long-term care home on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Google Earth)
Island Health declares outbreak at Victoria long-term care home

Resident, staff member test positive for COVID-19 at Mount St. Mary facility

Vancouver Island Connector and Tofino Bus is putting a 41-passenger electric bus through its paces in a three-month trial run between Nanaimo and Victoria. (Photo submitted)
Electric bus on trial run serving Victoria-to-Nanaimo route

Vancouver Island Connector and Tofino Bus trying out 41-seat electric coach for three months

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is helping Saanich police locate a suspect who allegedly stole an iPhone from a building in the 3100-block of Foul Bay Road on April 7. (Image via the Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers)
Saanich police seek suspect in cell phone theft

White iPhone XR reported stolen from building on Foul Bay Road April 7

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Have rising prices caused you to give up hope of buying a home?

Do you have a spare 50 grand or so kicking around (have… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

A teacher-librarian in Nanaimo was fired in 2019 for checking out an age-inappropriate graphic novel to a student. The discipline agreement was published Wednesday, April 21. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo teacher-librarian fired for checking out too-graphic graphic novel to student

Teacher had been previously disciplined and suspended on two occasions

Aria Pendak Jefferson cuddles ChiChi, the family cat that ran away two years ago in Ucluelet. The feline was missing until Courtney Johnson and Barry Edge discovered her in the parking lot of the Canadian Princess earlier this month. Aria and her parents were reunited with ChiChi in a parking lot in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
An Island girl’s wish is answered as her cat came back

Courtenay family reunited with cat that went missing in Ucluelet in 2019

FILE – The Instagram app is shown on an iPhone in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Judge acquits B.C. teen boy ‘set up’ on sex assault charge based on Instagram messages

The girl and her friends did not have ‘good intentions’ towards the accused, judge says

Kai Palkeinen recently helped a car stuck on the riverbed near the Big Eddy Bridge. While the car could not be saved, some of the driver’s belongings were. It’s common for vehicles to get stuck in the area due to significantly changing river levels from Revelstoke Dam. (Photo by Kai Palkeinen)
“I just sank a car’: Revelstoke resident tries to save vehicle from the Columbia River

Although it’s not permitted, the riverbed near the city is popular for off roading

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, walks down the street with an acquaintance after leaving B.C. Supreme Court during a lunch break at her extradition hearing, in Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, April 1, 2021. A judge is scheduled to release her decision today on a request to delay the final leg of hearings in Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rich Lam
B.C. judge grants Meng Wanzhou’s request to delay extradition hearings

Lawyers for Canada’s attorney general had argued there is no justification to delay proceedings in the case

B.C. Premier John Horgan announces travel restrictions between the province’s regional health authorities at the legislature, April 19, 2021. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sees 862 more COVID-19 cases Wednesday, seven deaths

Recreational travel restrictions set to begin Friday

Most Read