Barrels of fuel to children’s toys: B.C. shoreline cleanup nets 127 tonnes of marine debris

Crews with the $3.5-million provincially funded Marine Debris Removal Initiative remove discarded and lost gear from B.C.’s central coast in the summer of 2020. (Photo supplied by the Small Ship Tour Operators Association of B.C.)Crews with the $3.5-million provincially funded Marine Debris Removal Initiative remove discarded and lost gear from B.C.’s central coast in the summer of 2020. (Photo supplied by the Small Ship Tour Operators Association of B.C.)
Crews with the $3.5-million provincially funded Marine Debris Removal Initiative remove discarded and lost gear from B.C.’s central coast in the summer of 2020. (Photo supplied by Simon Agar)
Crews with the $3.5-million provincially funded Marine Debris Removal Initiative celebrate a huge haul of garbage from B.C.’s central coast in the summer of 2020. (Photo supplied by the Small Ship Tour Operators Association of B.C.)
Crews with the $3.5-million provincially funded Marine Debris Removal Initiative celebrate a huge haul of garbage from B.C.’s central coast in the summer of 2020. (Photo supplied by the Small Ship Tour Operators Association of B.C.)Crews with the $3.5-million provincially funded Marine Debris Removal Initiative celebrate a huge haul of garbage from B.C.’s central coast in the summer of 2020. (Photo supplied by the Small Ship Tour Operators Association of B.C.) Crews with the $3.5-million provincially funded Marine Debris Removal Initiative celebrate a huge haul of garbage from B.C.’s central coast in the summer of 2020. (Photo supplied by the Small Ship Tour Operators Association of B.C.)

Roughly 127 tonnes of garbage and debris has been removed from B.C.’s coastal shorelines as part of an innovative pandemic response from out-of-work marine tour operators in the central coast and Queen Charlotte Sound.

Developed and led by the Small Ship Tour Operators Association of B.C., in partnership with Indigenous Nations and local communities, the $3.5-million provincially-funded cleanup provided employment to 180 people from the tourism sector.

Unprecedented in scale, the Marine Debris Removal Initiative was carried out in two, 21-day expeditions in August and September to areas where marine debris have never been attempted due to severe logistical challenges.

Crews encountered “enormous” amounts of derelict fishing gear, polystyrene foam and plastic beverage bottles, but also almost every other form of plastic imaginable. This included footwear, hockey equipment, balls, shipwrecks, airplane fuselage, forestry equipment refrigerators, scientific equipment, children’s toys and full barrels of fuel and containers labelled ‘poison’.

“This initiative achieved many milestone results, not the least of which is identifying the scope of the debris issue, which is significantly impacting the health of our oceans, coastline and wildlife,” said Russell Markel, member of the tour operators association and co-lead of the initiative.

“We are proud of the collaborative work that allowed this project to come together in record time but continue to be gravely concerned about the future of our oceans and natural spaces if similar clean-up initiatives do not continue.”

Ocean plastic pollution is universally accepted as a major threat to wildlife, biodiversity and ecosystem function. The ocean-current system subjects B.C.’s outer coast to a slow but persistent delivery of marine debris from across the Pacific Ocean.

The project was funded through the provincial government’s $10-billion COVID-19 economic recovery plan, dovetailing into the Clean Coast, Clean Waters initiative (CCCW).

Wuikinuxv, Nuxalk, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, and Gitga’at First Nations all took part, collecting debris in areas close to their communities and in places that held cultural importance or were ecologically sensitive.

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