Ecotourism tour operators, working with First Nations, have removed nearly 130 tonnes of garbage from the B.C. coast in recent weeks and hope to see similar cleanups in the future.
The initiative was made possible by a $3.5-million grant from the provincial government.
"When we are out there doing our regular tours, we go to these remote places and see this plastic that gets washed up," said Randy Burke, owner of Bluewater Adventures, one of the tour operators behind the cleanup.
"It was clear that this was a job that we could do."
Douglas Neasloss, director of the Kitasoo/Xai'xais stewardship authority, managed the local cleanup in Klemtu on B.C.'s Central Coast.
"I would say this is the largest cleanup in B.C. I have never seen anything like it," said Neasloss.
"It was a win-win for everyone: the operators, our community, the wildlife, the ocean."
Nine ships took part in two expeditions of 21 days each. About 100 crew members were employed to clean up the shores of the Great Bear Rainforest, northeast of Vancouver Island.
The trash they picked up was put on a barge by helicopter. The barge that followed the second expedition arrived in Port Hardy on Vancouver Island on Sept. 29.
An overwhelming amount of garbage
"We had way more success than we had expected, which is both good and bad," said Burke.
He admits that the sight of the debris was disheartening.
"We realized that it would be impossible to collect all of the plastic that was there," said Burke. "We had to choose to be efficient with the time we had."
Managing the risks
"A lot of our coastal communities were extremely worried about COVID," said Neasloss. "We had a bit of a history with viruses that have wiped out our communities in the past."
As soon as the coronavirus struck, the Kitasoo/Xai'xais First Nation in Klemtu closed its borders.
When the operators approached the community to ask if they'd participate in the cleanup, they agreed, but on the condition that the crews stay away from the community.
Spirit Bear Lodge in Klemtu, the community's tourism operator, was then able to employ locals to clean up an area that was off limits for other operators.
"It was just a beautiful approach, it worked out very well," said Neasloss.
Should such cleaning be recurring? "Absolutely," he said. "We would definitely support this every year or every two years."
Burke agrees. "Whether it's us or other people who go back out and continue this project, I think it's vitally important."