Vancouver: The largest marine debris recovery operation ever to be attempted in Canada got under way this morning, with the departure of the tugboat Westco Rogue from Campbell River. The tug and its barge are under contract to Living Oceans Society, which is co-ordinating a group effort to remove some 40 tonnes of marine debris, mostly plastic, from Vancouver Island’s rocky western shores. The tug is steaming for Cape Scott, where it will be met by a helicopter carrying Living Oceans’ Rob O’Dea, who will lead the team working to sling the debris from land to the barge.
Ron Perrier and Ted Oldham, volunteers with B.C. Marine Trails Network Association, will work with Rob to hook up over 350 prepared bags of debris, plus hundreds of strings of fishing floats and other assorted debris, for helicopter lifting to the barge. The debris was collected and cached over the spring and summer by members of the Vancouver Island Marine Debris Working Group (VIMDWG).
“It’s exciting to see this operation finally getting underway,” said Karen Wristen, Living Oceans’ Executive Director. “Rob and I have been planning this since early in the year, working with the members of the VIMDWG to develop the project, pull together information from everyone about where they cached bags of collected debris, then mapping the data and planning out the helicopter lifts with the movement of the barge down the coast.”
“Weather is our biggest worry,” said Rob O’Dea. “We have a window until next Friday that looks good for heli-lifting, provided the seas stay below 3 metres so the barge can travel. But wind or fog could stall the operation at any point, and that’s costly.”
The helicopter, provided by 49 North of Campbell River, can fly in winds up to 35 knots but if those winds generate waves over 3 metres, the barge will have to seek shelter. Conversely, the barge can travel in fog but the helicopter can’t fly, meaning there is no point in moving if the fog rolls in.
The operation is funded in part by a generous gift from the Government of Japan and its people, given in the wake of the 2011 Tohoku tsunami and administered by the provincial Ministry of Environment. “Public donations are critical to the success of this operation and we’re very grateful to those who have given so far,” said Wristen. “But we haven’t yet fully covered our estimated costs and we’re really hoping people will continue to help us out.” Donations can be made online at www.livingoceans.org.
The tug will tow its cargo of plastic debris to Richmond, where River Road Barge and Transfer has agreed to let the groups land the cargo and sort it for recycling and repurposing. The public is invited to attend October 1 and 2, 10 am to 5 pm, to assist with sorting and take home any useful items. Volunteers can sign up on Facebook, at Greet the GarBarge.