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CLEAN MACHINE:BC small ship ops tackle trash on coast

With the tourism season cancelled by the pandemic, a fleet of British Columbia small ship operators are making the most of their unexpected down-time by collaborating on an epic project designed to remove up to 100 tons of garbage from the province’s Great Bear Rainforest outer coast.

The six-week expedition along 1,000 km of coastline continues through the end of September as part of the Marine Debris Removal Initiative (MDRI), a project funded by the provincial Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy.

The Small Ships Tour Operators Association (SSTOA) developed the innovative project with the blessing from Indigenous leaders in the region, which is strewn with reefs, and far from roads and communities, thus making clean-ups challenging.

“In these trying and uncertain times, the proposal and initiative from the SSTOA provides a rare opportunity and a good news story,” says Doug Neasloss, Stewardship Director with the Kitasoo-Xai’Xais Nation. “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.”

Removing marine debris and plastics is a priority under the global Oceans Plastic Charter and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, to which Canada has committed. It’s a priority for Indigenous governments and communities, for sustaining ocean health and protecting community food harvest.

The initiative is being funded as part of the province’s COVID-19 stimulus funding and is providing needed work for 100-plus crew and guides on nine ships, from five BC ecotourism companies, a tug and helicopter, plus 75 members of the Coastal First Nations communities.

“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,” says Kevin Smith, CEO of Maple Leaf Adventures and co-lead on the project with Russell Markel of Outer Shores Expeditions. “We dreamed up an initiative for which there weren’t yet any dedicated resources.”

He adds, “It’s been really rewarding to work with our colleagues on this, together as friends, not competitors.”

The crews, which include a number of scientists, are also collecting data on the debris they clean up, which they’ll provide to the ministry.

The project is administered by the Wilderness Tourism Association of BC, of which SSTOA is a member. The latter is composed of seven Canadian-owned and operated small-ship-based travel companies that specialize in providing niche wilderness experiences for groups of 6-24 guests along the BC coastline, in particular Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii, and Great Bear Rainforest regions.

“B.C.’s coastal environment is one of our greatest assets, attracting visitors from all over the world and supporting tourism in British Columbia,” says BC tourism minister Lisa Beare. “Funding for these projects not only protects the marine environment but provides jobs for people affected by the significant decrease in tourism as a result of the pandemic.”

Trash removal


• Each year an estimated 8.8 million tons of marine debris, or marine litter, enters the world’s oceans in the form of a wide range of industrial, residential, and single-use plastics.

• In 2018, the governments of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the European Union signed the Oceans Plastics Charter in a commitment to move towards a more resource-efficient and sustainable approach to the management of plastics.

• BC’s MDRI will see nine ships carrying over 100 crew and will focus on over a thousand kilometers of coastline including hundreds of islands and remote beaches along BC’s central coast.

• Ships will be fully provisioned and self-sufficient, so no contact with remote communities will take place.

• 1 helicopter will assist in the removal of debris, which will be loaded onto a barge. From there marine debris will be taken to northern Vancouver Island for safe disposal in the Seven Mile Landfill.

• Marine debris poses threats to species at risk including fish, seabirds and marine mammal populations. Fishing gear makes up almost half of all marine debris.


First published at Travel Industry Today

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