The Marine Debris Removal Initiative (MDRI) is a project that aims to help clear marine debris from the central and northern coastline of British Columbia. Throughout August and September of 2020, five BC owned small ship tour operators took part in a six-week expedition that helped clean more than 127 tonnes of debris from over 1000kms of coastline. The small ship tour operators developed this innovative project in response to tourism shutdowns due to COVID-19. The project was funded by the provincial Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy.
Members of the MDRI worked closely with Indigenous leaders in the region. Some of the Indigenous Nations took part in a related inshore coastal cleanup working with more than 75 members of their own communities to help clean debris along the coastlines throughout their regions. “Cleaning up plastic and garbage from beaches has been identified as a priority for our Nation and is critical to the long-term health of the marine environment in our territory,” says Danielle Shaw, Chief Councillor for the Wuikinuxv Nation.
The Great Bear Rainforest’s outer coast is extremely remote and can be challenging to access. There are no roads and no communities in the regions where the clean up took place. The ecotour operators who took part in the clean up had the appropriate vessels, skills, and experience to access these areas. The use of a helicopter and barge was also used to help transport and store the debris.
The MDRI employed more than 100 individuals, who were based on nine different vessels throughout the duration of the expeditions. The ships are self-sufficient so no contact was required with remote communities. The crews, which include several scientists, are also collecting data on the debris they clean up, which they’ll provide to the Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy.
The project was administered by the Wilderness Tourism Association of BC, of which the small ship tour companies are members. Their group, the Small Ship Tour Operators Association (SSTOA), is composed of seven 100% Canadian owned and operated, small-ship-based travel companies that specialize in providing niche wilderness travel experiences for groups of 6-24 guests along the British Columbia coastline. In particular, they operate in the Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii, and Great Bear Rainforest regions. They have seen first-hand how marine debris can pile up on remote beaches only to be washed out into the ocean again during the next big storm, where they inevitably break down and become ocean microplastics.
GPS locations of lift bags ready for helicopter pickup from Expeditions #1 (first two images) and #2 (third image)
Kevin Smith – Owner, Maple Leaf Adventures, President, Wilderness Tourism Association. Captain Smith brings over 35 years of experience exploring the rugged BC coast, most recently 20 years as an eco-tourism businessman, captain and expedition leader. Previously as a geographer and park ranger, he worked with coastal communities on the Great Bear Rainforest land use agreement.
Russell Markel – Owner, Outer Shores Expeditions, Captain Markel holds a Ph.D. in Marine Ecosystem Ecology and brings extensive experience leading and coordinating large interdisciplinary projects, including working closely with coastal First Nations.
Randy Burke – Owner, Bluewater Adventures, Captain Burke has over 30 year’s experience leading an award-winning eco-tour company on the BC Coast. He is an eco-tourism pioneer, educator, and conservationist with long-standing friendships with coastal First Nations. Bluewater Adventures’ fleet of locally built, custom motor-sailers; Island Roamer and Island Odyssey are now joined by the new flagship, Island Solitude.
Ross Campbell – Owner, Mothership Adventures, Captain Campbell is also a retired helicopter pilot and will be responsible for liaising with a local helicopter company for picking-up and transferring debris to a marine barge.
Eric Boyum – Owner, Ocean Adventures Charter Company, Owner Eric Boyum’s 39 years’ experience as a captain, his years in commercial fishing, and as a firefighter in West Vancouver for 25 years bring specialized skills to the project. As well as working onshore with his team, Eric is the SSTOABC liaison with the Heiltsuk Nation and Heiltsuk Horizon (who own and operate the tug and barge involved in the clean-up) as well as with the Kitasoo Xai’Xais Nation and their community’s Spirit Bear Lodge.
These companies are internationally recognized, offering “Signature Canadian Experiences”, and have for decades worked closely with Coastal First Nations establishing protocol agreements to recognize Indigenous rights and title. Three of the member companies have been awarded the Sustainable Tourism Award from the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.
August 31, 2020
Government of British Columbia: Environment and Climate Change Strategy
Shoreline clean-up funds create jobs, protect coastal waters.
September 4, 2020: