A program to remove debris from the coasts of Vancouver Island has been ongoing since 2014. It is coordinated by Living Oceans (www.livingoceans.org) based in Sointula and Vancouver. They coordinate many different volunteer groups who each picked a section of coast to clean. The project was funded by Living Oceans and money given by the Japanese government to deal with debris from the 2012 tsunami in Japan. The United States received $10 million and Canada $1 million. C-Span donated a barge subsequently named the “Garbarge” to remove all the accumulated debris in the summer of 2016. A helicopter is necessary to transfer the material from the beaches to the barge.
I volunteered with BC Marine Trails Network Association to go to the North Brooks area on the west coast of Vancouver Island from June 14-21. Two Nanaimo paddlers, Reale Emond and Jeff Follis, both Stewards of BC Marine Trails, coordinated our group of 8 kayakers. Because of the location, at least intermediate kayaking skills and experience on open coast was required. We carpooled and met in Port Alice to convoy the 83 kilometers on logging roads to Side Bay where we camped.
The main beaches designated for cleanup were around Lawn Point, Heater Point and the Cranapple Islets on the North side of Brooks Peninsula. We loaded huge feed bags, nets and a range of plastic bags on the back decks of our kayaks and paddled 1 ½ hours to Heater Point, had a brief break, and then continued for the 4 hour journey over open coast to Cranapple Islets, our home for the next 4 days. Cranapple Islets is a strategic staging campsite for rounding Brooks Peninsula, considered the most notorious and dangerous kayaking on the West Coast. The peninsula is completely included in Brooks Peninsula Provincial Park – it is significant for having escaped the last ice age and has some endemic species.
All landings on the north side of Brooks Peninsula involve surf with the beach between the two Cranberry Islets having the least. It is a beautiful spot that gives 270° views and many camp sites on the beach or in a clearing on the point. We had easy walking access to 3 large beaches. The most westerly beach was accessed by a 30-minute trail. 4 days of great weather, good company and lots of food made for a wonderful time.
On one windless afternoon, three paddlers paddled west along the north Brooks and circled Solander Island where they saw many sea lions but no puffins.
Everyone seems to have their own way to clean a beach. Most of the people worked in teams with one person throwing debris out for others to collect. I preferred to work alone. With a large IKEA bag, 1-2 large black bags and a small pruning saw (the best way to cut rope), I started next to the tree line and made 1-2 more passes through a small section. Stuff too large for the IKEA bag was thrown out. The tide line was picked up during the normal transits of the beach. A few of the anal people picked up the tiniest pieces of plastic.
By volume the most common garbage was Styrofoam, in every size possible. This was followed by round, plastic (and rarely glass) Japanese fishing floats, Styrofoam fishing floats, plastic bottles, large and small tangles of rope and net, and general garbage (mostly plastic). Tires in the rims, barrels, a boiler, boat housings and docks completed the list. The most interesting object was a 10-pin boiling ball with fascinating UV damage. We actually sorted out the Styrofoam, plastic bottles and general garbage and bagged them all separately. An estimated third of the garbage was of Japanese origin – almost all of it appeared to predate the tsunami. This confirms my impression that most true tsunami garbage is carried passed British Columbia by the Japanese Current, most staying out on the “garbage pile” in the ocean or landing on Alaskan, Washington, Oregon and California beaches.
Collection sites were safe places above the high tide line usually behind rock outcrops. We ended up with 8 “depots”. Most of our collection bags were donated. Plastic bottles and Styrofoam were placed in huge clear plastic bags inside light net bags. Huge bags normally used to store and move animal feed were used for general garbage. All fish floats were tied together with rope found on the beach. Large tangles of rope and net were tied up into compact bundles. Longer ropes for connection ropes for the helicopter long line were tied to each bag, labeled with red string, brought together and the whole lot tied down above the high tide line to logs. The only knot used was the bowline – Ted Oldham, who did most of the rope connections had never tied so many bowlines in his life.
After Cranapple Islets we paddled the four hours back to Heater Point to camp for two nights. The camping beach faces the inside, gets little garbage and was not cleaned. We walked the 30-minute trail (also cleared and marked) to the outside and cleaned the two beaches separated by a small headland. The most southerly beach ended in a huge walk-through cave with a protective very irate falcon.
All the debris was brought over to the north half of the beach to fill two feed bags, one net bag each of Styrofoam and plastic bottles and several ropes of floats.
On the morning of June 21, everyone paddled back to Side Bay, loaded our gear and make our way home, tired but enthusiastic about having spent a week doing something worthwhile in one of the most beautiful, remote parts of Canada.