VANCOUVER ISLAND MARINE DEBRIS WORKING GROUP
The Government of Japan provided $1m for cleanup of Tsunami driftage. The Ministry of Environment made the Japanese money available to First Nations, municipalities and non-profit groups working to remove marine debris from the most heavily impacted regions along the outer west coast of B.C. The groups listed below organized themselves as the Vancouver Island Marine Debris Working Group (VIMDWG), to co-ordinate efforts and share best practices. The Working Group decided to collaborate further, to recover the maximum amount of debris possible and ensure that the maximum amount would be recycled rather than land filled. The group created the “GarBarge” project: a tug-and-barge operation that spans the entire west coast of Vancouver Island, heli-lifting debris from remote locations otherwise accessible only by boat or trail. The groups worked throughout the spring and summer to bag over 400 cubic metres of debris and rope together with thousands of floats and other large material for helicopter lifting– an estimated 40 tonnes of material in all. All funds provided by Japan were fully expended by the end of 2016.
The GarBarge began its circumnavigation of Vancouver Island September 18, 2016 from Campbell River and the project culminated in an event at Steveston Harbour, October 1-2. The Consul General of Japan attended to receive our thanks and a brief report on how the gift was put to use.
Volunteers attended the event October 1-2, as all of that debris needs to be sorted and re-bagged for recycling, repurposing or disposal.
1. Living Oceans Society – Formed in 1998 in Sointula, a tiny fishing village in Vancouver Island’s north coast region, their marine debris work began locally in 2008 and expanded to include the northwest coast of Vancouver Island in 2012. In 2013, they were founding members of the VIMDWG and accessed funding from the Tsunami Debris Relief Fund administered by the Province. To date, they have removed over 8 tonnes of material from the WCVI and then expanded operations this year to bag an estimated 10 tonnes. Significantly, they co-ordinated the Gar-Barge Project. Contacts: Karen Wristen, Executive Director 604-788-5634, Rob O’Dea, Project Manager 604-657-1999
2. BC Marine Trails Network Association is a volunteer organization with a mandate to secure and care for accesses and campsites throughout the BC Coast for small beachable watercraft. To date, they have removed 3.44 tons of debris in 2015 and approximately 4 tons in 2016 (I personally was on this 8-day trip), from difficult to access remote locations…with the aid of kayaks. They focused their work between Quatsino Sound and the North Brooks Peninsula. Information: www.bcmarinetrails.org. Contact: Reale Emond, Stewardship Director 250-713-2354
3. Surfrider Foundation – A non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s oceans, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network. Founded in 1984 by a handful of visionary surfers in Malibu, California, the Surfrider Foundation now maintains over 250,000 supporters, activists and members worldwide. The Vancouver Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation is based in Victoria, BC and has been in existence since 2004. Since 2011, they have been removing marine and in 2014, 2015, and 2016 (Third Beach on the outside of Nootka Island), received funding from the Government of Japan. Contacts: Jamie McKay, Chair 250 217 0503, Lynn Wharram, Combing the Coast Coordinator 250 882 9702
4. Ocean Legacy Foundation was formed in 2013 in Vancouver and has worked locally and internationally to clean shorelines, map pollution, develop education and explore sustainable end-of-life technologies to mitigate plastic pollution. Since 2014, Ocean Legacy has assisted in removing close to 20 tonnes of plastic driftage from the West Coast of Vancouver Island with community partners and was able to purchase its first Japanese based plastic to fuel machine. In 2016, they received Japanese funding and collected close to 200 bags and loose plastic items with community partners from Nootka Island and Catala Island. Much of their MD was collected prior to the GarBarge Project. Contact: Chloe Dubois, Co-founder 250-538-2328
5. Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. Represents 9,000 members in fourteen First Nations (Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht, Hupacasath, Tse-shaht, and Uchucklesaht Ahousaht, Hesquiaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, Toquaht, and Yuu-cluth-aht Ehattesaht, Kyuquot/Cheklesaht, Mowachat/Muchalaht, and Nuchatlaht) in three regions along 300 kilometers of the Pacific Coast of Vancouver Island from Brooks Peninsula in the north to Point-no-Point in the south.
JAS Projects was hired to coordinate over 150 volunteers to remove over 200 cubic meters of marine debris from Nuu-chah-nulth coastal territory in 2015 and 2016. Specific areas were Hesquiat Peninsula, Radar Beach, and islands in the Broken Group, Deer Group and beginning 5kms for the West Coast Trail.
6. District of Ucluelet. In 2012, they established a Marine Debris Program to address the probable influx of tsunami driftage material. A scientific monitoring site was established with monthly collections of debris from a 1km section of beach through the NOAA Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project. They received $81,538 in in 2014 and $30,000 in 2016 for shoreline cleanup efforts in the Ucluelet, Barkley Sound, and the Broken Group Island in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. They recognized the first pieces of Japan Tsunami Marine Debris (JTMD) and the first JTMD wood to land in North America with living Japanese biofouling The successful proposal is supported by significant in-kind contributions in terms of volunteer efforts and resources from 28 collaborative partner agencies and organizations. Contact: Karla Robison, Environmental and Emergency Service Manager 250-266-2254
7. The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup – Started in 1994 as a joint conservation initiative of the Vancouver Aquarium and WWF-Canada, it has since grown to be a truly national program, with cleanups taking place year-round in every territory and province. The Shoreline Cleanup activates more than 60,000 volunteers each year at more than 2,000 cleanup sites across Canada.
They had 10 volunteers for 4 days on the north end of the West Coast Trail in 2016. See http://www.aquablog.ca/2016/08/west-coast-trail-styrofoam-monsters/ for their story and pictures. They also cleaned an area around Walbran Creek, 33kms from the north end of the West Coast Trail. See their 2014 cleanup http://www.aquablog.ca/2014/10/cleaning-up-tsunami-debris-from-the-west-coast-trail/ where 12 volunteers over 3 days cleaned the mid sections of the West Coast trail between Cribs Creek and Carmanah Creek.
Contacts: Deana Lancaster, Communications Advisor 604 659 3752 and Kate Le Souef, Manager, 604 659 3544
A detailed method of containing and securing the marine debris once collected was distributed to all participants. Called Super Sac Etiquette, one element was that the only knot to be used were bowlines as they are relatively easy to untie. Each element was to have a lift loop marked with red flagging tape. All the super sacs were to be closed to prevent rainwater increasing their weight.
During the 2016 summer, 310 super sacks and 170 others (strings of buoys, tires, nets and rope and net bags) were collected and aggregated from Cox Island, north of Cape Scott to the first 33 kilometres of the West Coast Trail by the 7 groups in the VIMDWG. Some participants (Ocean Legacy) had already removed most of their debris from their beaches. If included, the total collected in the summer of 2016 may have reached 80 tonnes. Each collection site with its contents and GPS location were recorded, forwarded to Rob and then placed on a map of Vancouver Island. Small scale maps were also produced so we knew exactly where all the collection sites were, and also had a good idea of the volume.
Living Oceans agreed to coordinate the whole process. They hired Rob O’Dea to manage the barge and tug and helicopter pickup slated for September. The Japanese Consul in Vancouver objected to use of the words Gar Barge or debris and much preferred Detailed maps with all the collection site contents were prepared for the entire coastline. A plan was drawn up taking into account the long gaps in collections sites – distances it was hoped the barge could travel at night.
TSUNAMI CLEANUP NORTH BROOKS My Experience
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 kilometres on logging roads to Side Bay where we camped.
The main beaches designated for cleanup were around Lawn Point, Heater Point and the Crabapple 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 Crabapple Islets, our home for the next 4 days. Crabapple 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 Crabapple 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.
MARINE DEBRIS CLEAN UP at the CHAINED ISLANDS August 12-17 2016
Not associated with the Japanese Tsunami cleanup limited to the outside West Coast, this cleanup was organized by BC Marine Trails as part of their mandate to develop camp sites as part of the BC Marine Trail. During a survey of the east side of Vancouver Island, a good campsite on the fourth Chained Island was found to have a massive debris load. With the only viable landing beach on any of the islands, it had been the site of a cabin and many fishing parties. Unfortunately, this is a rarely kayaked area – Seymour Narrows is to the south, windy Discovery Channel west and north (and then lower and upper Oksello Rapids to get over the top of Quadra Island to visit the Octopus Islands). The Bay itself is ok with some nice beaches, an old orchard and a trail over to Octopus Islands and a great swimming lake.
Five happy volunteers met at Granite Bay on Quadra, our launch site. We paddled over to the campsite for the next four nights on the Chained Islands. The beach unfortunately dries to steep rock and is heavy cobble the lower the tide. There is a great flat area for 3 tents and several other flat areas around the old cabin site.
The place was a mess with decades of accumulated garbage. The most prominent debris were Styrofoam tree planter blocks – at least 100 were scattered all over. There was also the remains of an old dock. When the tide receded, half the rocky beach was covered with the remains of an entire boat – fibreglass housings, motor, mattresses, carpets, metal and hundreds of shards of glass. It didn’t take long for everything to be picked up and bagged in the five super sacs we had. The dock was partially dismantled and hauled up on some logs. One day we paddled over to Ashlar Creek, another BC Marine Trails campsite, and then explored all of the bay. Two hiked up to the lake for a swim. There was at least one good campsite on the north shore at the site of old orchard.
I was walking around the island and discovered on the point, a cache of more Styrofoam tree holders – this time more than 150 plus other debris including an old refrigerator. All the blocks were strung on a rope and floated over because of high tide. Everything was bagged at the main beach. On September 17, a hired barge picked up all the debris with a large group of volunteers. It unloaded everything at Menzies Bay, NW of Campbell River. The $2,000 cost of the barge was raised by a fundraiser on the BC Marin Trails website.
When I was on the North Brooks cleanup, Reale talked about the plans for the Gar-Barge. As soon as I heard of the plan to use a helicopter to pick up marine debris from the entire West Coast of Vancouver Island, I was determined to be on the job. As soon as I got home, I contacted Karen Wriston, the Executive Director of Living Oceans, the nonprofit responsible for organizing the whole operation. She gave me contact info for Rob O’Dea, the private contractor hired by Living Oceans to run it. I phoned and emailed, sent resumes of my vast helicopter experience at KMC Hiking Camps and hard work ethic and made it clear I was very interested. We remained in contact over the summer as plans for the barge and tug changed. Rob Initially slated to start on September 1 using a 200-foot barge donated by C-span and a Navy tug. When that fell through (the barge was too big anyway), the search for a tug and barge was difficult. This was aggregate season and most companies were completely booked. And few worked on the open West Coast anyway. Eventually West Coast Barge and Tug agreed to be at Guise Bay near Cape Scott on Friday September 16. Their barge was 44 X 150 feet with the back 30 feet reserved for the helicopter. He showed us a painting on the wall “just like the one we were using”. It had a large ramp standing vertically on the front that would become useful. But there were no sides!
Then, on September 7th, the other volunteer in the helicopter crew cancelled because of the date change and I was in!
Karen and Rob picked me up on Wednesday Sept 14 with a videographer to take publicity video and photos. We met with the barge company and the helicopter company doing the south part of the job – 49 North of Campbell River. The date of the barge leaving Campbell River changed to Friday the 16th and then Sunday the 18th as a weather front was approaching. We were also informed that although promised a barge with sides, this one didn’t. That was going to add another whole element of difficulty to the operation. We had to contain up to 80 tons of marine debris on open ocean with swell and possibility of storms and high winds!
We drove to Port McNeil, stayed in a motel and were up early to fly with West Coast Helicopters to Cape Scott to consolidate loads and take pictures. It was foggy and takeoff was delayed till almost 10. We went overland with a fog layer at 700 feet and a cloud layer at 1700 feet. The landscape below is one of the more heavily logged areas anywhere. Old growth only exists on the steep slopes of mountains and along water courses. Everything else is in some degree of regeneration with a patchwork of varying shades of green. The entire coast was enveloped in fog and Mike searched for a way through. After many high-G turns we turned down a valley and ended up in the north arm of Quatsino Sound.
Mike was the pilot for the Alone TV show and we saw the beach where Jose made the canoe, where the 2015 winners and the father/daughter couple who won in 2016 were. This also allowed an aerial survey of all the pocket beaches from the entrance of Quatsino Sound to Cape Scott with a couple of passes of Grant’s Bay for more video. These tiny beaches are only accessible by helicopter and are choked with highly visible marine debris.
We arrived at Guise Bay and consolidated 7 loads from Experiment Bight to Guise Bay, then cruised south and consolidated 11 sites from Sea Otter Cove, Helen Islands and San Josef Bay to one site inside Hannah Point. This was 100m from the campsite where I spent 5 days on our Cape Scott trip waiting out the summer high and 20 knot north westerlies in 2014. It felt like home.
It was a good chance to get our long line technique down. Beside not venturing towards the back of the helicopter, the most important thing is to WATCH THE HOOK. Weighing about 15 pounds, it is a dangerous projectile. Once controlled, get the end of the sling rope, pass it through the load loops, hook it and get out of the way. It is often hard to know if everything is attached. We lost one string of buoys over the ocean. We learned it is necessary to check every connection point.
Cox island, 10 miles NW of Cape Scott had 3 sites, but it remained invisible in fog all day. As a result we had to land at the light house at Cape Scott for an hour hoping for the fog to lift. The light house couple are always interesting and I have met them before. They’ve been at this incredibly remote place for 17 years. I saw their train set in the basement full of collector ceramic houses. They are very chatty and helpful – they have to be to deal with the 5000 visitors they get each year mostly in the summer. A crew was there rebuilding the generator building. In the process they uncovered 25 years of garbage pushed over a cliff when the lighthouse was administered by the Ministry of Defence. Apparently the methane pockets from all the decomposed diapers was something else. the entire mess was gathered to be trucked out (yes there is a road). The fog didn’t lift so we flew direct back to Port McNeil. Total helicopter hours 3.9. We all got in the car and drove back to Courtenay.
As the date of the barge was delayed, Rob stayed at my place and dealt with all his headaches and missed important family commitments. The barge delayed again for no apparent reason. I don’t think they knew we were tracking the tug – in Bella Bella on the 16 and 17th, then steaming south of Powell River on the 18th on its way to Vancouver. It was very frustrating to deal with a company that was being deceptive and dishonest and then said “We can work together on this.” They finally agreed to leave Campbell River on Sunday night (the tug was in Vancouver) and actually left on Monday am with a promise to be in Guise Bay on Tuesday morning.
Over the three days in Courtenay, Rob and I had a lot of time to think about the project ahead of us. I drew a scale model of the barge. The super sacs are about a cubic metre and the 310 of them fit as one layer allowing for two feet clearance from the edge. The plan was to use super sacs to form two rows of 2 sacs laid on top of 3 to form the sides of the barge deck. As long lining on shore required two crew, we knew someone had to work on the barge to organize the dropped loads and make walls. I called a friend from Nanaimo, Ted Oldham, who dropped all his other plans and was happy to join us.
We bought rope, collected food and gear to camp and discussed long lining technique and behaviour around a helicopter. A Bell Long Ranger costs $1,000 per hour when running, and idling on the ground is running. With literally hundreds of long line loads, entrances and exits and connections of the long line to the underside of the helicopter, shaving seconds off any action would produce marked savings. Another frustrating hard and fast rule of helicopter use is that when passengers are on board, nothing can be hanging from the bottom. As a result any load picked requires the ground person to be dropped off, the long line connected, the load lifted, the helicopter returns, the line is removed and stowed and we fly off. That is, the flying time is double what you think it might be. It is not a problem if everything is in one place but when loads are strung over 2 kilometres of beach, it can be slow, and expensive.
Mike from West Coast was able to go out to Cox Island on the 19th to collect those loads over to Guise Bay. One of the sites could not be found and was assumed to have returned to the ocean.
Ted slept over on Monday night and we were off at 5:30 to drive to Campbell River Airport and 49 North Helicopters. The helicopter company changed as West Coast, the company used at Cape Scott, was unwilling to stay on the coast overnight, resulting in 2 hours of commuting time each day. The pilot for 49 North, Paul Greenwood, needed to sleep in a real bed, so we always had the option of staying in towns. Options at light houses were investigated. If we camped, it would have to be between where the helicopter slept and the barge.
We had huge plans for the day. As there was a 70 mile gap in the debris to be collected after North Brooks, we delusionally thought it was possible that with an early start, a third person to work the barge, all the debris congregated at our first two sites and great luck, that we could do that far. But the barge distances were large and we were only able to pick up Guise Bay, San Josef,
We flew with Campbell River and picked up Guise, San Josef, Lowrie, Cape Palmerston, Raft Cove, Hecht and Grant Bay on the 20th. Raft Cove had a massive black plastic culvert that was too heavy for the helicopter to lift. A full load of sacs dropped in the ocean – Paul used the rotor wash to drive it to shore. Another load accidentally was also dropped, this time below high tide on a beach. We pulled it up some and it was there the next morning. After a night in Winter Harbour, we had an easy time with our loads from Lawn, Heater and Crabapple (9 lifts). Then we waited for the barge to go 70 miles south. On the 22rd, it was Nootka and Hesquiat. I was dropped off on Third Beach at the beginning of the Nootka Trail. The load was difficult to make ready and thankfully to a young fellow, we just made it in time. A large blue barrel full of debris required two holes to be chiselled in it with a knife and then I used the flimsiest 1/3 of a rope to lift it. Ted and I camped on Nootka near the main aggregation point. After dinner, we made the load on the next beach load ready and rebagged two sacs that had been slashed. On Hesquiat, they had picked in 2015 and those bags were deep in the woods and generally a mess often requiring 30-40 minutes to make load ready. It became political when one of the native fellows wanted to load the helicopter. We were told it was going to happen despite our objections. All went well but it was the most expensive household garbage removal in the world. 150 kids had also cleaned on Hesquiat and these were well-prepared. With more weather problems and barge delays, all we did on the 23rd was Radar Beach south of Tofino. To this point, we only had about a third of all the stuff. The barge had no sides so we constructed them with super sacks. On Saturday, we had 120 sacks and more strings from Keith Island in the Broken Group, Diana, Bamfield and Keeha. Sunday was our last with 60 sacks and lots of strings from Pachena, Tsusiaht, Tsuqada and 33kms down at Walbran on the West Coast Trail.
We flew home via the Alberni Valley and Comox Lake.
It was a great time – Rob was very good to work with, the pilot was a great guy and you all know Ted. I can only hope to be half as strong and fit at 76.
Unloading the barge (should be there now) will be a spectacle with all the rope tying everything together. And then the sort as so much is not recyclable.