When I first heard about the chance to volunteer with helping to clean up the West Coast Trail in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, I wasn’t sure what I might be signing up for. But when Kate Le Souef, Vancouver Aquarium Tsunami Debris cleanup coordinator, told me that we would be flying in and out of the remote beaches via helicopter, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
Consistently rated one of the world’s top hikes, the West Coast Trail spans 75 kilometres from Bamfield to Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island. Most people come prepared to backpack the trail over the course of seven days taking in the stunning scenery of old growth forests, breathtaking beaches, numerous waterfalls, creeks and rock formations.
Luckily for myself and the other 11 volunteers, we would still be taking in the stunning scenery, but with a different end goal in mind. We would be helping to clean up marine debris, much of which has washed in since the devastating Japanese tsunami back in 2011.
In collaboration with Parks Canada, and with the generous contribution from the Government of Japan and its people, a three day, two night remote cleanup was undertaken to remove debris from the mid sections of the West Coast trail between Cribs Creek and Carmanah Creek the last weekend of September.
After a safety briefing and a short rain delay Friday morning, we were finally underway on what I knew would be the experience of a lifetime. We were helicoptered over to the Lighthouse at Carmanah Point from where our group would divide up and hike out to our respective campsites. After dropping our packs and setting up camp we were all eager to start finding and tracking marine debris.
At first glance, it appeared that there wouldn’t much for us to collect. But after a few minutes of climbing and clambering over the washed up tree logs to see what lay beneath, the scope of this project began to unfold.
After only a few short hours Friday afternoon, we had sorted through hundreds of plastic water bottles, dozens of fishing floats, several large blocks of Styrofoam and had dug out numerous tires.
All day Saturday was spent uncovering much of the same including some usual items – a fridge, a deep freezer, an outboard motor and a partially melted pallet from Japan. It’s incredible to think just how far and how long some of this debris floated across the ocean for before arriving to the B.C. coastline.
Almost four tons of debris was collected during the cleanup effort including 1,300 plastic water bottles, 850 fishing floats, 30 car tires and thousands of small and large pieces of Styrofoam. As we watched the helicopter haul the debris away Sunday morning, it felt both inspiring to know that we had made a difference to these two campsites, but at the same time overwhelming knowing that we only cleaned four of the 75 kilometers of the West Coast Trail.
Tsunami debris is a tiny fraction of the marine debris problem. You can help make a difference in your own community by reducing your consumption of single-use plastics and disposing of garbage responsibly. You can also participate in, or host your own, Shoreline Cleanup this fall and take a stand against shoreline litter in your own community. If you know of a shoreline affected by tsunami debris or if you want to get involved in our next remote cleanup, email the Vancouver Aquarium at [email protected].
This project is made possible by the generous contribution from the Government of Japan and its people. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Province of British Columbia, Ministry of Environment.
This blog post is submitted by Jennifer Kolbuc, social media manager for the Vancouver Aquarium.