Marine debris cleanup nets more than 125,000 tonnes

B.C.’s largest coastal marine debris cleanup has resulted in over 127 tonnes of marine debris removed from B.C.’s central coast and Queen Charlotte Sound shorelines.

This cleanup is part of the first project under the Clean Coast, Clean Waters Initiative.

The effort, led by the Small Ship Tour Operators Association of B.C. (SSTOA) in partnership with Indigenous Nations and local communities, supported B.C.’s economic recovery efforts by providing employment 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.

Detailed accounting

The SSTOA, supported by the Wilderness Tourism Association of B.C. (WTA), prepared the final report, “Marine Debris Removal Initiative 2020 – Coastal Environmental Protection, Employment, and Economic Recovery”, during the COVID-19 Pandemic, to provide a detailed accounting of clean-up activities: what they did, how they did it and what they found.

“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, SSTOA member and co-lead of the Marine Debris Removal 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.”

“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,” said Doug Neasloss, stewardship director, Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation.

“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.”

More projects this spring

An additional $1.33 million will support the Coastal First Nations – Great Bear Initiative (CFN). CFN will see shoreline clean-up projects this spring in key food gathering areas and provide training and jobs for community members.

As well, government recently 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 B.C. 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.

The CCCW is an important part of the CleanBC Plastics Action Plan. Its goal is to address plastic pollution. The initiative is also part of B.C.’s $10-billion Covid-19 response.