Times Colonist

Idled tourism-ship crews help to clear de­bris

Hope to comb about 1,000 kilo­me­tres of coast­line

- DARRON KLOSTER dkloster@times­colonist.com Ecology · Plastic Pollution · Vancouver · Kevin Smith · British Columbia · Environmental Protection Ministry · United Nations · Vancouver Island · Vancouver Island · Victoria

Tourism ships nor­mally loaded with ad­ven­ture seek­ers head­ing to the Great Bear Rain For­est this time of year are now filling their hulls with plas­tic waste.

A fleet of nine boats has been comb­ing about 1,000 kilo­me­tres of coast­line along the eco­log­i­cally sen­si­tive home of the Spirit Bear, and ex­pects to re­move up to 100 tonnes of marine waste over the next sev­eral weeks. Marine de­bris will be taken to north­ern Van­cou­ver Is­land for dis­posal in the Seven Mile Landfill.

It’s an in­no­va­tive project by the small-ship com­pa­nies, which had to can­cel their lu­cra­tive tourism sea­sons amid the pan­demic.

“When it be­came clear we would not be able to op­er­ate un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances this sum­mer and had to can­cel a sold-out sea­son, we turned our at­ten­tion to the en­vi­ron­ment to give back to the coast that sus­tains us,” Kevin Smith, CEO of Vic­to­ria-based Maple Leaf Ad­ven­tures and co-lead on the project with Rus­sell Markel of Outer Shores Ex­pe­di­tions, said in a state­ment.

“We dreamed up an ini­tia­tive for which there weren’t yet any ded­i­cated re­sources. It’s been re­ally re­ward­ing to work with our col­leagues on this, to­gether as friends, not com­peti­tors. We also ap­plaud the Wilder­ness Tourism As­so­ci­a­tion, coast First Na­tions and the Prov­ince of B.C. for their sup­port in help­ing clean up our oceans, a pos­i­tive story for this un­prece­dented time.”

The cleanup is be­ing paid for as part of the prov­ince’s COVID-19 stim­u­lus fund­ing and will pro­vide work for more than 100 crew and guides on nine ships, from five B.C. eco­tourism com­pa­nies. It will also em­ploy a tug and barge and he­li­copter. A re­lated in-shore cleanup done by mem­bers of Coastal First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties will em­ploy an­other 75 peo­ple.

The crews in­clude sci­en­tists who are col­lect­ing data on the de­bris to be used by the En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry.

The fleet started cleanup op­er­a­tions on Aug. 18.

Re­mov­ing marine de­bris and plas­tics is a pri­or­ity un­der the global Oceans Plas­tic Char­ter and the UN’s sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment goals. It’s a pri­or­ity for In­dige­nous gov­ern­ments and com­mu­ni­ties to sus­tain ocean health and pro­tect food har­vest.

“In these try­ing and un­cer­tain times, the pro­posal and ini­tia­tive pro­vides a rare op­por­tu­nity and a good news story,” Doug Neasloss, stew­ard­ship di­rec­tor with the Ki­ta­soo-Xai’Xais Nation, said in a state­ment. “Marine de­bris is an on-go­ing chal­lenge and a re­moval ini­tia­tive of this scale — to clean up a large, re­mote coast­line — is an un­der­tak­ing that will pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fit to Ki­ta­soo/Xai’Xais ter­ri­tory and be­yond.”

The Great Bear Rain­for­est’s outer coast is strewn with reefs, far from roads and com­mu­ni­ties, mak­ing cleanups chal­leng­ing.

The Small Ship Tour Op­er­a­tors As­so­ci­a­tion said it has seen first-hand how marine de­bris can pile up on re­mote beaches, only to be washed out into the ocean again dur­ing the next big storm.

 ?? SMALL SHIP TOUR OP­ER­A­TORS AS­SO­CI­A­TION OF B.C. ?? Tour op­er­a­tors have been help­ing with de­bris cleanup along B.C.’s coast­line.
SMALL SHIP TOUR OP­ER­A­TORS AS­SO­CI­A­TION OF B.C. Tour op­er­a­tors have been help­ing with de­bris cleanup along B.C.’s coast­line.

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