The beaches on Haida Gwaii have always been a magnet for the flotsam and jetsam that circles the Pacific. The archipelago sits off shore from the mainland and reaches out into the currents and wild winds of Open Ocean. Some beaches collect the debris and display it for a while and then it’s simply swept back into the sea to continue its journey, but some beaches here hold on to the debris and do not let it go.

In the years since the Tohoku Tsunami in 2011 we’ve watched with alarm as our favorite areas started to collect devastating amounts of new debris. A beach known simply to the locals as “East Beach” was being hit particularly hard, the belly of this beach is exposed to Hecate Strait and all her wild personality.

East Beach is our backyard playground. This paradise is where we draw sustenance into our lives. It’s where we hunt deer, collect firewood, pick berries, and gather shellfish. This playground extends from the tip of Rose Spit Ecological Reserve, all the way through Naikoon Provincial Park and is accessible only by a three-day hike or with the serious use of four-wheel drive vehicles.

Every tide brings more plastic litter to the shores of Haida Gwaii.

Every tide brings more plastic litter to the shores of Haida Gwaii.

Working as weekend warriors, my partner and I began taking heaping truckloads of marine debris off the beach in November 2013. To date we’ve removed over 70 loads and estimate that we’ve brought in over 36,000 cubic feet of rubbish from our shores. We’ve been able to do this simply with our trusty rusty pick-up truck and a small trickle of funding that was provided to Canada directly from Japan specifically for this purpose.

It became a creative game for us to figure out how to pack the truck with as much as we could possibly carry. We drove home at the end of the weekend looking like a crazy fortune-telling gypsy wagon put together with marshmallows by a drunken Dr. Seuss — we were very proud.

Our weekends consisted of so many serenely peaceful sunrises; and many long winter nights cozy in our tent waiting out tides. We witnessed a moon-bow surrounded by dancing northern lights arched over the Oeanda River and saw rainbows liquefy into waterfalls on brilliantly magic days. There were days in the winter that found us in the warmest place in all of Canada and colder days where we battled stormy high tides.

We loaded our truck like an old gypsy wagon more than 70 times.

We loaded our truck like an old gypsy wagon more than 70 times.

The debris is dominated by Styrofoam varying in size from blocks that dwarf the truck to tiny microbeads of mess. Behind the Styrofoam are bottles of every shape size and purpose, fishing gear, and tiny ground up bits of plastic that maybe used to fit together into something useful, but are now an environmental hazard embedding into the shoreline and being eaten by the wildlife.

While the debris we’re finding is currently dominated with objects swept into the sea during the Tohoku Tsunami, we’ve also found an enormous amount of garbage washing in from countries all around the pacific. This debris arrives, marked by its unique culture and language, from countries as close and as far away as Chile, Philippines, Korea, China, Russia, the United States and Canada.

It's not just tsunami debris that washes up on Haida Gwaii. The tides bring litter from all over the world.

It’s not just tsunami debris that washes up on Haida Gwaii. The tides bring litter from all over the world.

My partner and I don’t have an education backed by science; but we are avid sailors, beachcombers, fishers and hunters. Through a practical need we’ve become experts on our surrounding ecosystems and we can promise you that there is a horror show of irresponsibility unfolding in our oceans.

Cleanups are really just a temporary solution and not nearly enough to tackle the enormity of the issue but any help is always welcome.

Blog post by Linda Leitch, Site Coordinator with the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.

Learn more about Linda’s cleanups 

Registration for The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup will open in March 2016. The Shoreline Cleanup, presented by Loblaw Companies Limited, is a joint conservation program of the Vancouver Aquarium and WWF Canada.

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