Clear the Coast 2023: Good news and bad news
When the dust finally settles behind us on northern Vancouver Island’s logging roads, Living Oceans will have cleared just over 10.5 tonnes of plastic marine debris from sensitive foreshore environments in 2023, bringing our total collection to date to nearly 70 tonnes.
Those numbers may not seem staggering until you consider how lightweight plastic is and what the volume really looks like.
If we could pile up those 70 tonnes of plastic debris into a perfect cube, it would stand about 635 meters high, wide and deep. If we stood atop that cube next to the CN tower, we’d be nearly 30 average building stories higher than the tower’s peak. It would dwarf Vancouver’s tallest building, the Living Shangri-La Hotel, which just tops 200 meters.
It boggles the mind to think we’ve had our hands on that much plastic! Of course, not one of us does it alone.
I have to thank the many unknown hikers who took the trouble to pile debris above the high tide line, where it would wait safely until we came along to bag it. Some names were passed along—Suzanne & Brett, Maria & David, I hope you’re reading this and know how much we appreciate what you did. Every hour that you save us searching for plastic means more beaches can be cleared of dangerous debris.
Thanks also to passing sailor Jay Blackmore, who stayed to work with us for a day and generously replenished our freshwater supply.
Our volunteer teams were a mix of veterans of Clear the Coast and new members joining us for their first full-on wilderness work camp experience. The dry conditions meant hiking to beaches near our base camps was easy; but the extremely high tides during our August expedition limited our work days and forced us to establish ‘suburbs’ to the base camp in the forest clearings usually favoured by napping bears. In Sea Otter Cove, we were treated to a visit from the wolf pack and serenaded well into the night. The bears and wolves foraging in the intertidal zone remind us that we do this work for them, as well as for the marine life that is threatened with entanglement in or ingestion of floating marine debris.
Occasionally, we are also reminded that we do this work for other people, too. I recently received a lovely email from a woman volunteering for our next cleanup, who had just returned from Guise Bay on the Cape Scott Trail. She wrote, “I was saddened but also extremely grateful when I looked at the photos of the work you all did there in June. I can’t imagine how devastated I would have been had I come across a beach in that condition, prior to your clean.” Only a month later, she had found enough debris already re-accumulated to make a pile above the high-tide line.
This work takes many friends and allies, and we are fortunate indeed to count among them David Jensen of Lonepaddle Conservationists Society. David’s story this year is both wonderful and tragic.
After working alone on his paddleboard for several weeks, as he prefers, David had amassed 12 caches of debris ready for the helicopter—certainly over 2 tonnes of debris he collected single-handedly. When we arrived at Sea Otter Cove in late August, he was still working on the last one up by Hanson’s Lagoon. We asked the helicopter pilot to go find him and bring as many of his caches as possible back to Sea Otter for sorting, so they could go directly to the recycling depot or landfill.
By the time the debris was safely landed in Sea Otter, the weather was turning. David was facing a very rough paddle of about 12 km in a building sea if he were to join us in the shelter of Sea Otter before the storm really hit. Rather than risk it, he accepted a ride from the helicopter…and that’s when things went south. Literally.
Both of his paddleboards and a surfboard dropped from the helilift, smashing on contact with the rocks and water below. Over $8000-worth of gear was lost in seconds.
To understand the magnitude of this loss for David isn’t all that hard. He works winters to support his paddleboard habit, which involves getting himself into places that no boat will safely go, to bag up marine debris for Living Oceans’ annual cleanup.
Why does he do it? A recent interview with chek News takes a dive into his motivations. He does this as a volunteer, because he is offended by plastic debris on otherwise pristine shores. He cares deeply for the health of the wildlife that visits his summertime doings. And he clearly thrives on the feeling of a job well done.