Remote B.C. tourism lodge staffed for coastal clean up instead of wilderness tours

Crew photo with four mega bags and a necklace of abandoned buoys. (Jack Plant photo)
Cutting into a fish farm net pen frame that washed up in Kitasoo territory. (Jack Plant photo)
Cutting into a fish farm net pen frame that washed up in Kitasoo territory. (Jack Plant photo)
Untangling rope has led to many a blunt knife. (Jack Plant photo)
An example of the “beach” being cleaned. (Jack Plant photo)
Buoys, rope, foam, water jugs and more. (Jack Plant photo)
Dragging trash down the rocky beach. (Jack Plant photo)
Is it a kettle bell or a buoy? (Jack Plant photo)
Bowling with buoys (Jack Plant photo)
Cleaning up a coast is tedious, never-ending work. (Jack Plant photo)

The Spirit Bear Lodge in B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest is an all-inclusive resort in the rugged Pacific northwest, meant as a wilderness retreat for tourists. But this year, they’ve taken on a new mission, and manager John Czornobaj is determined to make it a staple going forward.

The mission is coast cleaning.

In August, the provincial government contributed funding to tourism operators and coastal First Nations through its Clean Coast, Clean Waters Initiative Fund. The Small Ship Tourism Operators Association are hitting the outer coast, while the coastal First Nations are targeting places that are culturally important or used for food gathering and hunting.

The Kitasoo/Xai’xais Stewardship Authority asked the Spirit Bear Lodge to help tackle the job in their territory, and staff jumped at the chance. They employed about 12 young people from Klemtu as well, and have been sending out two boats a day for nearly a month.

The crew of 25 have collected 10,000 pounds of garbage so far.

That’s 10,000 pounds of fishing rope, 100-foot PVC pipes, Styrofoam blocks, buoys, a confusing amount of shoes and flip flops, thousands and thousands of single-use water bottles, full-sized fridges and freezers, barrels and large mort totes from fish farms.

Rolling up plastic netting to be hauled away to where it belongs: a recycling plant. (Jack Plant photo)

After seeing the sheer amount of work to be done, Czornobaj’s new goal is to make this an annual project.

“It’s lit a fire under all of us, recognizing how much more there is to do,” he said on a phone call after an eight-hour day of extricating trash.

Ocean trash on B.C.’s coast is a perpetual problem. Currents drag abandoned commercial fishing gear onto the rugged islands where it gets trapped by mounds of driftwood and lashed onto the rocks by ocean swells.

There, the man-made material becomes part of the landscape. Trees plant themselves in old broken oil barrels, and birds mistakenly feed on micro-plastics.

Even after a thorough cleaning from crews like this, the layers of driftwood trap and conceal some of the trash.

“We’re expecting with winter storms things will shuffle around and expose more that needs to be cleaned. And there’s still things being thrown in the ocean. It’s going to be a never-ending problem,” Czornobaj said.

He estimates they’ll clean a couple of hundred kilometres of coast this year — out of a few thousand kilometres just in the Kitasoo/Xai’xais territory.

The team is starting to wonder what can be done to stop new waste from being added daily. Could legislation aimed at commercial fishing be effective? Maybe put GPS trackers on gear — if you loseit, go find it. Or what about an audit system that checks boats when they leave and return, to make sure they have the same amount of gear, Czornobaj mused.

“These guys are out there making lots of money and they need to be accountable for letting thousands, literally thousands and thousands of pounds of fishing equipment out into the ocean.

“I don’t think the appliances we’re finding are coming from land. I think they come from boats. An attitude like, ‘This freezer is broken, toss it over. This barrel has a hole, toss it over.’ “

Out of sight out of mind for people who threw if overboard, but plastic doesn’t disappear, not really. (Jack Plant photo)

On one island, they found a nearly intact fish farm pen, a massive PVC pipe structure that stretches a net over the fish pen to prevent birds from getting in. It was at one of the most significant cultural places for the Kitasoo people. The crew used chainsaws to break it into manageable pieces.

It wasn’t from a local farm, either. These are global problems.

The crew hauls garbage into the mega bags, weigh it all, and record the types of waste and where they ended up.

To actually remove the trash, the Spirit Bear Lodge team is sharing the tugboat, barge and helicopter with the Small Ship Tourism Operators Association fleet, who drop the load off in Port Hardy to be processed by the Seven Mile Landfill and Recycling Centre. Well over 100,000 pounds of garbage will be offloaded by the end of September.

Making it an annual mission is not only a great employment opportunity for people in Klemtu, where the lodge is located, but it’s also a solid back-up plan for tourism jobs. They’re hoping for a good year of tours in 2021, but expect it to be shorter and limited to Canadian tourists.

“There’s been some depressing days out there. When you go out for eight hours and pick up garbage every day for a month, yeah, there are some sad days,” Czornobaj said.

A fish farm net pen frame that washed up in Kitasoo territory. (Jack Plant photo)

RELATED: Inside a mission to scrub our wild beaches

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca


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