Citizen-led marine cleanup tackles West Coast shorelines of Vancouver Island

Debris from across the Pacific Ocean is washing up throughout Clayoquot Sound and residents and First Nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island say they're worried nothing is being done about it.

So, though a new organization, Clayoquot CleanUp, they've decided to take matters into their own hands and initiate a major citizen-led clean-up effort.

The first large debris removal is set for June 1. Capt. Josh Temple, with Ocean Outfitters in Tofino, is one of the people behind the environmental initiative.

"It's a massive problem that's washing up on our shores from all points across the Pacific," he said.

Temple says marine debris can take many forms, from shipping containers, Styrofoam insulation, commercial fishing gear, beverage containers, household plastics and more.

Inaccessible shorelines

The Hanjin Seattle cargo ship that lost 35 empty containers in rough seas near the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca on Nov. 3 is what's causing the most recent debris onslaught, said Temple.

Temple commends community efforts from individuals, local businesses, park board employees and fellow marine clean-up foundation, Surfrider, who have helped comb the accessible areas of the coast.

"What's unfortunate is the vast majority of Clayoquot Sound is what I would definitely consider as remote and largely inaccessible other than by water or by air," he said.

"There's tremendous difficulty in accessing most of these areas and that's why we've really come together in a concerted effort to try and tackle these critical areas."

Massive community support

With manpower of volunteers and technical experts, the group will be taking individual vessels to these remote locations to help restore the shoreline.

GNN Towing has donated a tug and barge, and Atleo Air provided a helicopter to the initiative, allowing Temple and his team to properly remove the collected debris from the area.

Gord Johns, the NDP MP for Courtenay-Alberni, has been promoting this cause at the federal level, said Temple, and Mayor Josie Osborne has been a local advocate.

Funding for future

Both are trying to source funding for the initiative, but Clayoquot CleanUp hasn't seen any money aside from its own.

"We can go out and clean up everything that hasn't been dealt with before and that's accumulated for literally generations, and new stuff is coming in every day," Temple said.

"But after we do that, we have to focus on the maintenance of this coast and that is going to continue in perpetuity."

Temple expects the project to cost millions of dollars in the long term, and is confident their community-led initiative will bring this environmental problem to the government's awareness, once it sees just how much trash is on the shores.

"I think that when we show up at the end of our first phase in the middle of June with a massive barge loaded with debris … it's going to force the government to face this environmental disaster, because it's largely existed out of the public eye."

With files from the CBC's All Points West

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