boat full of debris off the water

Cleaning-up the shoreline from Comox to the northern Discovery Islands

The Campbell River Association of Tour Operators finished (CRATO) cleaning up Vancouver Island’s shoreline from Comox to Chatham Point, at the entrance of the Johnstone Strait, and is now working in the northern Discovery Islands.

Weighing the debris in Campbell River – Photo courtesy CRATO

“It is such an inspiring story to see how the tour operators of Campbell River came together to not only clean things up, but train a whole new generation how to do that,” said Mary Ruth Snyder, Executive Director  of the Campbell River & District Chamber of Commerce. 

CRATO’s areas in red. (Click here to read about cleaning up in the southern Discovery Islands) – adapted from Google Maps by Roy L Hales

CRATO was awarded the contract, to remove marine debris, garbage and used fishing and aquaculture gear from about 350 kilometres of shoreline by the BC government’s “Clean Coast, Clean Waters Initiative.”

They started in Comox, last month. Bill Coltart, President of CRATO, attributes the progress of their first five days to the fact they were working in an area that was heavily populated. 

“We did find a lot of debris, don’t get me wrong, but the sheer volume relative to what we are seeing now was significantly less. What that tells me is that people that live along the waterfront, between Comox and Campbell River, do a lot of their own beach clean-up on a regular basis,” he explained. “We certainly saw some large pieces: large tires, blocks of foam, large pieces of plastic – that aren’t easy to remove – but we’re seeing a much denser volume of marine debris the further isolated we get.” 

They expected to be loading a barge every week, but found it only takes a day to a day and a half of beach cleaning. 

CRATO had collected about 15 tons of debris by the time Cortes Currents caught up with them at Chatham Point on October 14th, and Coltart expects to have between 50 and 80 tons when this project ends.

Working on the beach – Photo courtesy CRATO

“As tour operators: we’re in those waters every day, be it kayaking or whale watching. You just don’t see what’s up in that high tide line. What’s hiding behind those logs. Once you have the opportunity to walk those isolated stretches of beach, it becomes a bit shocking – at the volume that is hidden there that you just don’t see from the boat,” he said. 

The debris is taken to a sorting facility in Campbell River. When they have a truckload, Coltart guesstimates 80-85% of the debris will end up in the Ocean Legacy Foundation recycling facility in Richmond. A small amount, 7-8%, goes to landfill. 

Part of CRATO’s program is funded through a youth employment initiative. So their goal was to hire people between the ages of 16 and 29, give them some ‘on the job opportunities’ for training and skills development. 

“We’ve been able to do everything from marine safety, a lot of them are filling in deck hand sort of positions – so they’re learning how to tie knots, safety protocols … safety signals; proper use of safety equipment. They’ve been trained in wildlife awareness because there are bears and other wild animals in the area,” said Coltart. 

They have about 20 volunteers who go out on a regular basis and, at any given moment, 10 to 15 paid young people.

Crato consulted with the We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum, K’omoks and Homalco First Nations and some of their youth are employed in the program. 

Boat load of trash – Photo courtesy CRATO

Coltart said the income this program brings in is the difference between make it or break it for many Campbell River tourism companies. It gave them an opportunity to keep staff employed, boats in the water and crews working.

“The Campbell River and District Chamber of Commerce is the intersection point between businesses, all four levels of government, education institutions, community organizations, the general public, our Indigenous Nations: providing opportunities for engagement, learning and the raising of our collective vibrancy. This project, by the Campbell River tour operators, is the epitome of that statement,” said Snyder. “They are businesses that have come together working with at least two levels of government, the Indigenous Nations, providing opportunities fo the youth.” 

She added that in the last 18 months, we haven’t had a lot of success stories like this.

Top photo credit: Shore to boat transfer – Photo courtesy CRATO

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