Pacific Ocean Garbage Clean up in the Great Bear Rainforest

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

John Lapp

What was supposed to be a season of welcoming guests to The Great Bear Rainforest and showing them everything magical that Spirit Bear Lodge has to offer, ended in a closure of the entire Central Coast, including Klemtu. Tourism in the Great Bear Rainforest was cancelled, not just for us but for everyone that operates in this magnificent area. Instead of doing nothing, waiting around and hoping for a better 2021, we decided to give back and do something that we are very proud to have been a part of, the largest marine debris clean up the British Columbia coast has ever seen. BC Coastal Clean up.

Spirit Bear Lodge along with nine other wilderness tourism operators that work in the Great Bear Rainforest were part of this incredible marine debris clean up. For almost 30 days straight we walked the rugged coastline of the Kitasoo Xaixais territory picking up garbage, cutting and removing ropes and old fishing nets.  Collectively we removed a grand total of 127 metric tons of marine debris this summer!

The Province of British Columbia sponsored this important initiative by injecting 3.5 million dollars into the project. Collecting this much garbage takes a lot of resources and careful planning. Tourism operations such as Spirit Bear Lodge were on the ground picking up the debris and filling large industrial garbage bags. The bags were then picked up by helicopter, taken to a barge powered by a tug and finally brought to a waste management facility on Vancouver Island. In addition to the 127 tons of debris removed from the coastline, out of work guides and marine captains were now hired back.

A Spirit Bear Lodge marine debris cleanup day started like a normal guiding day, up early, eat a hearty breakfast, grab your lunch, get all the gear ready, check the boats and head out into some of the most spectacular coast line this country has to offer. Instead of targeting all the hot spots we know have great wildlife viewing we were going to the hot spots that were open to the Pacific Ocean and literally a land trap for the ocean’s garbage. You know those big beautiful rocky and sandy beaches where the waves are constantly crashing? As it turns out, they are the perfect places to clean because as those waves crash on shore, they are bringing with them the ocean’s trash.

So, what did we find? Plastics, lots, from all over the world, Styrofoam, also lots from all over the world.  What surprised us most was the amount of commercial fishing gear. If you had a sharp knife when you started the cleanup it was very dull by the end. Approximately 70% of what we bagged up and had airlifted onto a barge was fishing nets, ropes and floats all used in the commercial fishing industry.

Imagine rope and nets mixed in with lots of driftwood and now swirled up by the crashing waves. The end result being a massive version of the messiest bunch of wool you’ve had to de-tangle, lots of cutting, moving wood, more cutting and then carrying sometimes hundreds of kilograms of net to a designated pick up spot to be airlifted to the barge.

At the end of the day we were sore, wet, dirty, and even sun burnt, but it was all worth the effort. Seeing the before and after of these stunning beaches was immensely satisfying. Knowing we have removed ropes that will never entangle one of our giant humpback whales. Knowing that we removed plastics that will no longer be turned into micro-plastics and consumed by both large and small sea animals. Knowing that the Styrofoam (which will not break down) is no longer on our beaches.

The project employed more than Spirit Bear Lodge employees we had high school students, parents and grandparents join us for this beach cleanup project. It was great to work long days together, sharing stories and working together to improve the Kitasso Xaixais territory.  A few times we were rewarded by a side trip in search of spirit bears and other amazing wildlife. This gave us an even more sense of accomplishment knowing we are removing garbage and making the beaches cleaner where these amazing animals roam.

Even though we did not get to be tour guides this year, it was still one of the most rewarding seasons I have been involved in during my years of working on the BC coast. The sense of what we accomplished was overwhelming. My hope is that we make this an annual project as we know 127 metric tons is amazing, but we also know we barely scratched the surface of the marine debris problem on the coast of British Columbia.