Last August and September, the first cleanup project under the British Columbia Clean Coast, Clean Waters Initiative resulted in the removal of over 127 tonnes of marine debris from the province’s central coast and Queen Charlotte Sound shorelines.
The effort was led by the Small Ship Tour Operators Association of B.C. (SSTOA) in partnership with Indigenous Nations, including coastal Indigenous Nations the Wuikinuxv, Nuxalk, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, and Gitga’at, as well as local communities. Teams collected debris from along 540.5 kilometres of the outer shorelines of BC’s central coast and Queen Charlotte Sound.
The coastal cleanup supported BC’s economic recovery efforts by providing work to 180 crew members and Indigenous communities’ members, and aiding a tourism sector that had its entire 2020 season cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the cleanup, Doug Neasloss, stewardship director, Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation said “For the first time in my lifetime, the beaches of some of our most sacred sites are free of plastic, garbage and fishing gear, thanks to this initiative.”
“Our lands and waters are lighter now – and the benefits will flow beyond our community and guests, to the wildlife who depend on the health of the shoreline,” added Neasloss.
A fleet of nine ships and 17 skiffs was deployed and 111 SSTOA crew members and 69 members of participating First Nations communities were employed by the project. Beach-cast marine debris was collected from 401 sites and removed by helicopter, tug and barge. More than half of the debris was derelict fishing gear and the rest consisted of polystyrene foam, marine goods, consumer goods, hard plastics and metals.
The SSTOA, supported by the WTA, prepared the final report. Marine Debris Removal Initiative 2020 – Coastal Environmental Protection, Employment, and Economic Recovery During the COVID-19 Pandemic provided a detailed accounting of clean-up activities, including what they did, how they did it and what they found.
Russell Markel, SSTOA member and co-lead of the Marine Debris Removal Initiative said “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.” Markel added his association is proud of the work that has been accomplished under the project, but will “continue to be gravely concerned about the future of our oceans and natural spaces if similar clean-up initiatives do not continue.”
“The extraordinary work done by small ship tour operators and their partners has brought into sharp focus what can be accomplished when we work together toward creative solutions,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.
Heyman says the project is one of many in our CleanBC Plastics Action Plan, which includes a number of initiatives to prevent plastic waste and divert more waste from landfills to “create a cleaner, better future for everyone.”
Globally, it is estimated that more than 20 million tonnes of plastic waste enter aquatic ecosystems every year. In 2019, the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup removed 163,505 kilograms of shoreline debris in Canada, an increase of 47,076 kilograms over 2018.
Just under half, or 77,836 kilograms, of the collected debris in Canada in 2019 was removed from BC shorelines.
Coming up this spring, the BC government will fund an additional $1.33 million to support the Coastal First Nations – Great Bear Initiative which will see shoreline clean-up projects in key food gathering areas and provide training and jobs for community members.
Recently the Horgan government announced an additional $9.5 million in CCCW funding for more projects in 2021. Applications for funding are being accepted from coastal Indigenous Nations and local governments, as well as non-profits and other groups in BC that have expertise in shoreline and marine debris cleanup or removal of derelict vessels.
The CCCW initiative directly responds to the strong public call to action on marine debris that Sheila Malcolmson, former parliamentary secretary for environment, heard when she toured coastal communities in summer 2019. The main concerns raised by local governments and individuals included abandoned vessels, mooring buoys, polystyrene foam, aquaculture debris and single-use plastics.