Cleanup efforts led by the Campbell River Association of Tour Operators (CRATO) have concluded, resulting in vast quantities of debris collected from hundreds of kilometres of local shorelines.
For the provincially-funded project, CRATO was responsible for the cleanup of about 350 kilometres of shoreline on east Vancouver Island from Comox north to Chatham Point, as well as along some adjacent islands and mainland inlets. Four First Nation bands were involved in the project alongside five local tour companies, plus hired staff and volunteers.
These cleanup efforts, which started in the fall, have now concluded.
In total, over 37 tonnes of debris were collected.
“We were finding between 1,000 and 2,000 kilograms of debris every 10 kilometres — that’s a fair bit,” said Bill Coltart, CRATO president. “It was interesting to see just how much debris we were able to take out of the marine environment.”
The collected recyclable materials have been sorted and are now being shipped to the Ocean Legacy recycling facility in Vancouver. This non-profit specializes in addressing marine plastic pollution.
Coltart commends the B.C. government for agreeing to fund the program.
“The province had the foresight to see it could deal with two issues,” he said. “One was the fact that tour operators are obviously struggling — and they could keep them working longer than what they normally would in a normal season — but then also have a significant environmental impact.”
Marine debris — which includes items such as tires, plastics and styrofoam — is often not noticeable from a boat, said Coltart.
“You think it’s pristine, beautiful shoreline,” he said. “You just don’t see it — it’s hidden.”
But these materials are revealed at the high-tide watermark, where they have been pushed by storms and wave action.
“That’s where you start getting massive amounts of debris,” he said.
The difficulty of the cleanup was often tied to the tide.
“On a low tide, it’s quite easy to watch those beaches and maneuver around, but on high tide it could be a little bit more of a challenge,” said Coltart. “If you’re lucky, we’re having to move the workers into shallow repeats; it’s not steep, rocky shorelines at that point.”
Conditions were challenging through the last legs of the cleanup.
“We’ve got a fair bit of snow and some cold, but we’ve got a hearty crew that’s been working with us,” he said.
Coltart said CRATO has been encouraging the provincial government to consider funding the project, at least in the short term.
“Hopefully, we’re not picking up this amount of debris on a regular basis, but certainly moving forward, we could extend our area,” he said. “It’s a drop in the bucket, really, what we were able to manage.”