Cleanup nets tonnes of plastics, marine gear, polystyrene and more

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.

“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. “This project is one of many in our CleanBC Plastics Action Plan, which includes a number of initiatives to prevent plastic waste, divert more waste from landfills and create a cleaner, better future for everyone.”

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.”

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 part of B.C.’s $10-billion COVID-19 response, which includes StrongerBC: BC’s Economic Recovery Plan, that protects people’s health and livelihoods while supporting businesses and communities.

About the project:

* The Small Ship Tour Operators Association of B.C. (SSTOA) and Wilderness Tourism Association of B.C. worked with the support of several coastal Indigenous Nations: the Wuikinuxv, Nuxalk, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, and Gitga’at.

* The project included a fleet of nine ships and 17 skiffs, employing 111 SSTOA crew members and 69 members of First Nations communities.

* Two 21-day expeditions took place between Aug. 18 and Sept. 28, 2020, along 540.5 kilometres of the outer shorelines of B.C.’s central coast and Queen Charlotte Sound.

* Collectively, 127,060 kilograms (1,029 cubic metres) of beach-cast marine debris were collected from 401 sites and removed by helicopter, tug and barge.

* More than half the debris collected consisted of derelict fishing gear. The rest consisted of polystyrene foam, marine goods (fuel cans, buckets, pipes, etc.), consumer goods (beverage/food containers, tires, clothes, appliances, etc.), hard plastics and metals.


* Globally, it has been 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.

* Slightly less than half of the collected debris in Canada in 2019 was removed from B.C. shorelines (77,836 kilograms).