Dec 3, 2020

Boaters on BC’s West Coast have heard the story of the garbage pickers of the Marine debris removal initiative. The team at Canadian Yachting’s West Coast OnBoard Digest wanted to dig down and find out what it was like to be involved in this very successful venture.

Sam LamGroup photo by Sam Lam

We were very fortunate to find Nik Coutinho who was one of the participants to graciously share his experience.

“On August 18th, 2020, a fleet of 9 ecotourism small ships headed north past Port McNeill. "What's going on?" asked the surprised residents. With COVID19 the BC coast had been eerily quiet and now the iconic ecotourism passenger fleet was steaming north. After being tied to the dock during their usual peak season the fleet had convinced the provincial government to fund a Marine Debris Removal Initiative. And what happens when you task a group of dedicated local business owners/skippers that know and love every nook and cranny of BC's amazing coast? 127 Tonnes of debris collected. The following is the recount of a crew member that was whisked away on this wonderful adventure.”

Tavish CampbellAerial photo by Tavish Campbell

“Our voyage began aboard the majestic 68' Columbia III, captained by former helicopter pilot, Ross Campbell. Campbell considers himself steward rather than owner of the iconic craft. Graceful, stately, and beautiful, we could not have asked for a better vessel to call home for the duration of our expedition. After fifty years of being an integral participant in Canada's coastal history and running luxury kayaking charters for the last few decades, we are able to get this ship on its first adventure of 2020.”

Columbia III


Columbia III

“Just a week prior, Captain Campbell called us to action from across BC to go adventuring aboard the Columbia III. Those who answered the call had some concept of what we were getting ourselves into, but we had no idea of the scope. We would discover, as in any adventure, we found more than we were looking for along the way. Captain Ross is the one commonality we all have; we know the guy. His charisma and creativity, added to his unique sense of humour, he immediately becomes the father figure of the trip. The person everyone looks up to for guidance and is careful not to let down, either by haphazardly slipping on a wet log, breaking our fragile bodies, or beaching the zodiac.”

“Once the charter fleet rendezvoused in Port Mcneill, we geared up and headed across Queen Charlotte Strait toward the central coast of BC and our holy grail - marine garbage - literal tons of it.”

It takes about a week as we settle into the ship and our daily routines. Mornings we all gather together in the historic salon, taking the time to wake up at our own pace. Reading, breathing in the morning mist, or gazing at the sunrise in peaceful silence, blowing on a hot cup of tea or coffee. That said, we all know one or two souls impervious and almost combative to a peaceful silence. Though nearly like a timer went off, everyone proclaims in their way that they are ready for the day and the Columbia III begins to roar.”

“It's the first time many of us have been able to work all year, with the seasonal reality of the tourism industry and now COVID making us question a career in guiding. Our passion for the coast is what brought us out here, and it’s enough to build a career on. One that has graced us with joy and lasting memories. One can grow irritable living and working in the same cozy quarters with nine strangers for 3 -6 weeks, with little to no break from each other. Somehow though, it was smooth and we all shared the excitement to explore, to step foot on yet another beach loaded with garbage. We didn't want to leave or miss out. We all knew we might not ever get another chance to be in that place ever again. Our crew didn't even want to split up from each other, "you found a freezer? Where? Can I see it? Where is it now?". Knowing this may be the only chance that we could remove garbage from the coast made us all resilient, and the camaraderie kept us vibrant.”

Helicopter AssistHelicopter assist with garbage

“The constant competition for finding glass balls in the tide line or the forest also kept spirits high, which had all of us rushing the forest line at every beach we stormed. There is an old proverb - A person often meets their destiny on the road they take to avoid it - it works almost in reverse here, for the ones rewarded with finding these treasures were the ones not looking for them. What a wonderfully apt description of what we found fist deep in marine debris, derelict fishing gear, piles of styrofoam, and demoralizing amounts of microplastics. What we found that we weren't looking for - our treasure was each other. For those few short weeks, we had built a family. We slipped naturally into our roles; the data keeper, boat driver, the strong silent types and the ones with comic relief or practical guidance. Each of us was an invaluable part of a quirky whole. Enjoy some laughter and a sandwich while we take a break from cutting apart 3000ft and 6500lbs (2950kg) of rope. The emotional support and life advice shared while sitting on some of the most beautiful, secluded beaches on the BC coast, waiting hours for a helicopter to come to pick up hundreds of pounds of garbage collected just a few days earlier, these moments were invaluable. After that many weeks together, you begin to form a bond. One that time will not be able to break”.

“All of us know the impact of this issue. We have all read the science; being conservationists at heart, we understand this remote ecosystem's struggle holding itself together in a precise balance. Coming up on a beach littered with bottles or massive chunks of styrofoam and rope on top of piles of logging debris, we can only imagine what didn't we get, buried underneath, or what had to be left behind.”

The miraculous last-minute planning of a 100 person, nine ship Marine Debris Removal Initiative may have taken 127 tons of garbage from the central coast. It brought us all together, working toward a common goal and becoming friends along the way. We couldn't have asked for a better group, better boats or a better setting; those things simply do not exist.”

“So, as it has been doing on the BC coast since 1956, the Columbia III continues to bring people together, protecting our coast and providing us with life-changing adventures, precisely when we need them.”