If the average Gray Whale weighs between 40,000 to 60,000 pounds (we’re talking 4 to 5 elephants), let’s imagine for a moment what that would look like in waste.
Now, double it. Spirit of the West Adventures, Sustainable Tourism Certified member and sea kayaking operator based out of Vancouver Island, collected over 100,000 pounds of debris during their Marine Debris Clean-Up this past December. Undertaken during one of the rainiest and windiest seasons yet, the project spanned twelve weeks and covered an impressive 357 kilometers of shoreline along the Northern Discovery Islands. The entire project was conducted by just 18 youths, and 7 who identify as ‘young at heart’, and was encouraged and supported by local communities.
Based on the waste removed, this endeavor was more than successful (understanding, of course, that true success would be finding nothing to remove at all). In fact, weight alone isn’t a fair measurement of the findings of this project. Most of the debris was Styrofoam or lightweight plastics collected from abandoned shellfish operations or aquaculture, when it wasn’t a tire or leaking barrel of oil. The final whopping 50 tons of waste loads taken away looked a little like this:
- 1 transport truck worth of tires
- Two full-sized transport trucks with recyclables
- Six 40-yard bins of garbage
- Two 40-yard bins of metal recycling
- 2 trailers full of hazardous goods including leaking barrels of oil
As in all things, we must also take the time to mention the noteworthy. The detailed data collection of the team also included 189 shoes (102 left and 87 right – apparently people are more mindful of their right foot compared to their left), a refrigerator, deep freezer, several outboard motors, vinyl record albums, and a tire over 10 feet wide and 5 feet high that weighed a hefty 6,000 pounds. This data will be shared with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, to hopefully prevent the materials from entering the ocean in the first place and to encourage further removal projects.
If this accomplishment wasn’t enough, through the incredible efforts and engagement of the Spirit of the West Adventures’ team, over 50 percent of this waste collected was recycled, repurposed, or reused. As the team states, “not only was [the waste] removed from the beaches and ocean, it has been kept out of the landfill.”
The truth is, visitors and locals of the beautiful shores of the Canadian western coastline will mostly find bull kelp, gooseneck barnacles, blue mussels, and maybe even a mud flat or spider crab. It’s easy to not think about the pollution and harm happening below the surface or floating beyond the shores, and as out of sight, out of mind goes, it’s even easier to imagine it doesn’t exist. The incredible work of Spirit of the West Adventures helps show us that although waste and debris on these same shores is a reality, initiatives like the Marine Debris Clean-Up effectively help to spread awareness and mitigate its damaging effects.
Spirit of the West Adventures has said: “While this is a project we are very proud of the work accomplished; the real win is that every piece removed will not get the opportunity to break down and further contribute to the horrific issue of microplastics. It is also important to remember that this is merely a drop in the ocean and more items are washing up on our shores every day – this is far from over! We challenge everyone to stop and think before purchasing, to ask tough questions of the places/companies we vote with our dollars daily and to of course continue the good work on this island of picking up debris as it comes in. Together we do have a voice and can make a difference, even if it can feel a wee bit overwhelming in the process.”
We have been generously permitted to share the details of this project by Spirit of the West Adventures, who provided us with all information you read above. To learn more about the Marine Debris Removal Initiative, click here, or here to book your next guided sea kayaking tour.
For details on the Marine Debris Removal initiative that took place in 2020, read Sustainable Tourism Members Team Up to Fight Pandemics & Plastic Pollution.