Marine Debris Removal Initiative Press Kit

Wilderness Tourism Association of BC (WTABC) and Small Ships Tour Operators Association (SSTOA) with support from the Commercial Bear Viewing Association (CBVA) join the Province of BC in ambitious beach clean up of harmful marine debris across BC’s north coast

On August 18, 2020 a fleet of tourism ships began an unprecedented, six-week expedition to the Great Bear Rainforest’s outer coast as part of the Marine Debris Removal Initiative (MDRI), a project funded by the provincial Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy.

With the blessing from Indigenous leaders in the region, the expedition expects to remove 75 and 100 tons of marine waste, including plastics, from over 1,000 km of coastal beaches along the Great Bear Rainforest. A group of BC small ship tour companies developed this innovative project in response to tourism shutdowns due to COVID-19.

"In these trying and uncertain times, the proposal and initiative from the SSTOA provides a rare opportunity and a good news story,” says Doug Neasloss, Stewardship Director with the Kitasoo-Xai’Xais Nation. “Marine debris is an on-going challenge and a removal initiative of this scale -- to clean up a large, remote coastline -- is an undertaking that will provide significant environmental benefit to Kitasoo/Xai’Xais territory and beyond."
Top Main image: Simon Ager, overview of beach: Simon Ager, map: Liam Ogle, spirit bear: Jeff Reynolds, styrofoam: Simon Ager, zodiac with debris: Passing Cloud crew; bags lined up on shore: Passing Cloud crew, digging through ropes: Simon Ager, masked crew: Simon Ager
“Members of the SSTOA have pivoted to an innovative and reasonable idea that not only allows them to continue operating and employing skilled workers, but also provides a tremendous benefit to the province by cleaning up enormous amounts of harmful waste along the BC coastline that threatens marine wildlife, humans and the environment,” says TIABC’s CEO Walt Judas.
  • This initiative is being funded as part of the province’s COVID-19 stimulus funding and will provide needed work for 100+ crew and guides on nine ships, from five BC ecotourism companies. It will also employ a tug and barge and helicopter. In addition, a related in-shore clean-up done by members of Coastal First Nations communities will employ another 75 people.
  • The crews, which include a number of scientists, are also collecting data on the debris they clean up, which they’ll provide to the Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy.

Photo credit: Simon Ager

About the Small Ship Tour Operators Association (SSTOA)

The Small Ship Tour Operators Association (SSTOA) of BC 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 passengers 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

Wilderness Tourism Association of BC

The Wilderness Tourism Association of British Columbia (WTABC) supports BC’s world-class wilderness based tourism operators and help support a strong and sustainable wilderness tourism industry by protecting the land and water resources that support each business.

Fast Facts

  • Each year an estimated 8.8 million tons of marine debris, or marine litter, enters the world’s oceans in the form of a wide range of industrial, residential, and single-use plastics.
  • In 2018, the Governments for Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the European Union signed the Oceans Plastics Charter in a commitment to move towards a more resource-efficient and sustainable approach to the management of plastics.
  • BC’s MDRI will see nine ships carrying over 100 crew and will focus on over a thousand kilometers of coastline including hundreds of islands and remote beaches along BC’s central coast.
  • Ships will be fully provisioned and self-sufficient, so no contact with remote communities will take place.
  • 1 helicopter will assist in the removal of debris which will be loaded onto a barge. From there marine debris will be taken to northern Vancouver Island for safe disposal in the Seven Mile Landfill.
  • Marine debris poses threats to species at risk including fish, seabirds and marine mammal populations – fishing gear makes up almost half of all marine debris.
  • Sheila Malcolmson, MLA for Nanaimo, Special Advisor for Marine Debris Protection and Parliamentary Secretary for Environment‘s February 2020 report entitled What We Heard On Marine Debris In BC, outlined among the many challenges facing the removal of marine debris on the BC coast the logistics, costs, and complexities of collection, transportation, and disposal. This is especially true for remote locations such as the north and central coast of BC.
  • In British Columbia, despite being sparsely populated and relatively inaccessible, the accumulation of vast amounts of marine debris, derived both domestically and internationally, are increasingly a source of alarm and great concern.
  • As marine plastics lie on beaches, the sun breaks down their strength. Then winter storms wash the plastics back into the ocean, where, already weakened, they break down further into microplastics, enter the food chain, and threaten fisheries and human health.
  • The MDRI is an example of entrepreneurial tourism operators coming together with a solution.

Ship Captains & Project Crew

The ship captains and project leads behind the Marine Debris Removal Initiative:

Kevin Smith, Maple Leaf Adventures

Owner & Captain Smith brings over 20 years of experience including coordinating remote beach clean-ups on north-western Vancouver Island for BC Parks, working as a fisheries patrol officer and backcountry park ranger, and Maple Leaf Adventures celebrates 20 years in operation in 2021.

Photo credit: Simon Ager

Russell Markel, Outer Shores Expeditions

Captain Markel has a PhD in Marine Ecology. He also brings extensive experience leading and coordinating large interdisciplinary projects, including working closely with Coastal First Nations.

Photo credit: Oriana Smy

Randy Burke, Bluewater Adventures

Owner & 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-sailors; Island Roamer and Island Odyssey are now joined by the new flagship, Island Solitude.

Photo credit: Bluewater Adventures

Ross Campbell, 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.

Photo credit: Tavish Campbell

Eric Boyum, 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 his specialized skills to this project. As well as working on shore with his team, Eric is the SSTOABC liaison with the Heiltsuk Nation, Heiltsuk Horizon, (who own and operate the tug and barge involved in the clean up), as well as the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation and their community's Spirit Bear Lodge.

Photo credit: Trish Boyum

Scott Benton

Scott Benton has been actively involved in resource, recreation and tourism management in British Columbia for over 30 years. His passion is working with people to create practical solutions for positive social, environmental and economic outcomes.

Scott has lived throughout the Pacific Northwest and most of British Columbia. His educational background is in recreation management and public administration. He previously worked for the Province of BC holding a number of technical, management and senior management positions responsible for environmental management, land use planning and parks governance and management.

Scott joined the Wilderness Tourism Association as Executive Director in late 2016. He serves in the same capacity for the BC River Outfitters Association .

Katherine MacRae, Executive Director, Commercial Bear Viewing Association of BC

Katherine MacRae is the Executive Director for the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of BC. With over 30 years of experience in the tourism industry and a Master of Arts in Tourism Management from Royal Roads University, Katherine brings a passion for the industry to everything she does. Through Katherine’s work, she is a strong advocate for wildlife in BC and was instrumental in closing the grizzly bear hunt in December 2017.

Photo credit: Matt Cecil Photography

These small ship companies are internationally recognized, offering Signature Canadian Experiences, and have for years worked closely with Coastal First Nations honouring the protocol agreements in place. Three of the member companies have been awarded the Sustainable Tourism Awards from the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.


TOP SECTION: crew pointing: Simon Ager, Beach debris images: Small Ship Tour Operators Association of BC (SSTOA) Sea Lion: Philip Stone, birds eye of barge: Simon Ager, bottom right debris onboard: Simon Ager, BOTTOM SECTION: close up of plastics Columbia III crew; carrying white barrel Columbia III crew; crew with high vis vests and masks Columbia III crew; Kevin and Court with bags Michael Jackson

Videos / B-Roll

Media Contacts:

Deirdre Campbell, Beattie Tartan | 250.882.9199 | Deirdre.Campbell@beattiegroup.com

Vanessa Johnson, Beattie Tartan I 778.966.1183. I Vanessa.Johnson@beattiegroup.com