Marine Debris Removal Initiative Press Kit

What is the Marine Debris Removal Initiative?

The Marine Debris Removal Initiative (MDRI) is the largest clean-up of British Columbia's north coast. This is the second year this expedition is taking place, starting with areas that were left during the expedition in 2020, and moving north along the outer coast from Aristazabal Island to Banks Island. This region contains places that have been designated with the highest level of ecological significance, including ecological reserves, conservancies and marine protected areas, as well as being a famed destination for ecotourism.

The massive coastal clean up is led by the Small Ship Tour Operators Association of BC (SSTOA) and Wilderness Tourism Association of BC with funding by the BC government. The initiative is also being undertaken in partnership with local communities, while providing employment to 90 crew members and Indigenous communities’ members including the Kitasoo/Xai'xais, Gitga'at, and Gitxaala First Nations.

Marine debris is a huge problem on the coast of BC, and its removal is almost unanimously supported by all members of coastal communities, according to consultation in 2019 by the BC government.

A significant concern is the amount of debris (random plastics including almost 50,000 water bottles collected at the half-way point) found in sensitive ecological reserves, conservancies and shorelines. This year, the team removed over 100,000 kg of marine debris in the area.

Following the first clean-up expedition in 2020, a series of recommendations were developed, many of which have been put in place in 2021, including a comprehensive recycling plan. Ocean Legacy Foundation, the MDRI's recycling partner, believes 60-80% of what is collected this year will be recycled.

Photo credit: Simon Ager/ Wilderness Tourism Association of BC

The History of the Marine Debris Removal Initiative

Facing the loss of their entire 2020 tourism season, the Small Ship Tour Operators Association, along with the Wilderness Tourism Association conceived, proposed and operated the coast’s largest-ever marine debris clean-up in from August to September 2020, with the active support of the Wuikinuxv, Nuxalk, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, and Gitga’at First Nations whose territory the expedition worked in, with funding from BC’s Clean Coast, Clean Waters Fund. In addition to the environmental benefits, this initiative provided employment to 111 people in the tourism industry and 69 people were employed from Indigenous coastal communities.

The first MDRI covered the outer islands and west-facing shorelines of Queen Charlotte Sound, comprising 30% steep exposed headlands, 30% low rocky zones and 40% small coves, surge channels, bays, beaches and bights. Many of its locations are protected areas (parks, conservancies, rockfish conservation areas, ecological reserves), identified by BC for having special value for protection and wildlife. The 42-day expedition involved 9 expedition vessels, 17 skiffs, 1 tug and barge, 1 helicopter and 111 people, collecting 127 t of debris, mostly plastics, much of it accumulated over decades since no large-scale clean-up had ever been coordinated in this region. The debris cleared by hand from 550 km of shoreline (then lifted from 401 sites) included derelict fishing/aquaculture gear, polystyrene foam, plastic beverage bottles and other single-use plastics, line/rope, and a small amount of hard plastics and metal.

Following from the outcomes and insights gained during this initiative, the SSTOA provides six key recommendations:

  • Mitigation of derelict/ghost fishing gear
  • Mitigation of polystyrene foam
  • Funding for ongoing marine debris removal initiatives
  • Funding for marine debris research and monitoring
  • Funding for marine debris recycling facilities and capacity
  • Prioritizing Marine Protected Areas for future removal initiatives

Photo credit: Simon Ager/Wilderness Tourism Association of BC

“For the first time in my lifetime the beaches of some of our most sacred sites are free of plastic, garbage, and fishing gear, thanks to this initiative,” Doug Neasloss, Stewardship Director with the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation, said. “Our lands and waters are lighter now— and the benefits will flow beyond our community and guests, to the wildlife who depend on the health of the shoreline.”
(From top left, clockwise): Captains having their "socially distanced" morning meeting; COVID tests were administered throughout the expedition; ghost fishing gear comprise of over 50 per cent of the marine debris collected; dragger balls and styrofoam blocks; over 200 tonnes of marine debris was collected during the 2021 expedition. Photos: Simon Ager/ Wilderness Tourism Association of BC
“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

What was collected in 2021

  • Length of shoreline cleared (km) - 161
  • Hard plastic flats/dragger balls (kg) - 10979
  • Plastic barrels (kg) - 1477
  • Black plastic oyster baskets (kg) - 66
  • Hard plastic items and fragments (kg) - 8067
  • Other packaging (single-use hard plastic) (kg) - 682
  • Foam floats (kg) - 1380
  • Non reusable foam floats (kg) - 2172
  • Recyclable white Styrofoam (kg) - 2742
  • Non recyclable white Styrofoam (kg) - 2372
  • Plastic beverage bottles (kg) - 1084
  • Net (poly) (kg) - 6445
  • Net (nylon) (kg) - 272
  • Rope (poly) (kg) - 12543
  • Rope (nylon) (kg) - 336
  • Non recyclable net and rope (poly) (kg) - 40300
  • Tires with Styrofoam (kg) - 808
  • Tires without Styrofoam (kg) - 2386
  • Unclassified (kg) - 1383
  • Unsorted (kg) - 3649
  • Garbage/landfill (kg) - 7177
  • TOTAL DEBRIS COLLECTED (kg) - 106317

Photo: Philip Stone/ Wilderness Tourism Association of BC

A breakdown of the marine debris collecter after Day 15 of the expedition. Photo: Jeff Reynolds/ Wilderness Tourism Association of BC

Helicopter Lift Bag Retrieval Sites

Maps showing Helicopter lift sites from each the 21-day expeditions. In total, the MDRI removed 127,060 kg of derelict fishing gear, polystyrene foam, consumer garbage and hard plastics from the outer BC coast. Maps: Liam Ogle

The SSTOA Crews included several scientists, who collected valuable data on the debris they collected Their findings have been published in the SSTOA and WTA Marine Debris Removal Initiative 2020 Report, now available to the public. The report describes the MDRI’s accomplishments from the removal of marine debris to the economic benefits of sustaining the tourism sector.

The report aims to inform the BC Government and all British Columbians of the crisis of marine debris and ocean plastic that is unfolding on the BC coast and around the world. Based on what the SSTOA crews encountered and learned throughout this initiative, and the results of the debris composition analyses, several recommendations are included in the Report.

The SSTOA and WTA Marine Debris Removal Initiative 2021 Report and Key Recommendations will be available to the public later this summer.

Photo: Simon Ager/ Wilderness Tourism Association of BC

About the Small Ship Tour Operators Association (SSTOA)

The Small Ship Tour Operators Association of British Columbia is composed of seven 100% Canadian-owned and operated, small-ship expedition travel companies that specialize in providing niche, nature-based wilderness travel experiences for small groups of 6-24 passengers, throughout the BC coast. In particular, they operate in Northern Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii, and the Great Bear Rainforest. Although diverse in terms of the size and types of vessels they operate, SSTOA members share the core values of sustainable tourism and proudly embrace their roles in emerging conservation-based economies. They are fundamentally conservation-minded entrepreneurs and have chosen these career and business paths because of their dedication and passion for protecting and sharing the wonders of the BC coast.

The SSTOA works closely with numerous industry organizations and associations, including the Wilderness Tourism Association of BC (WTA), the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of BC (CVBA), Gwaii Haanas Tour Operators Association (GHTOA), and the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association (NIMMSA). Many members are carbon-neutral certified, and financially support a wide range of conservation initiatives and organizations on the BC coast and beyond.

About the Wilderness Tourism Association of BC (WTABC)

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.

Mapped out areas divided into 2 expeditions during the planning process

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.
  • Ships were fully provisioned and self-sufficient, so no contact with remote communities was required.
  • 1 helicopter assisted in the removal of debris from shorelines to a waiting tug and barge. Marine debris was transported to northern Vancouver Island for safe disposal at the Seven Mile Landfill.
  • Marine debris poses threats to species at risk including fish, seabirds, and marine mammal populations –derelict 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.
Photo: Simon Ager/ Wilderness Tourism Association

Ship Captains & Project Crew

The ship captains and project leads behind the Marine Debris Removal Initiative and the intrepid tourism companies that they represent.

Maple Leaf Adventures

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

Selected for Canada’s “Signature Experiences Collection” by the Canadian Tourism Commission, Maple Leaf Adventures has provided conservation-focused safaris by water since 1986.

With a reputation as one of Canada’s top regenerative tour operators, its multi-day excursions give guests one-of-a-kind experiences in some of the most beautiful and rare places in the world, often in areas that were once under threat of destruction or in dire need of protection. Destinations include the Great Bear Rainforest, Haida Gwaii, Vancouver Island, Desolation Sound and southeast Alaska. Maple Leaf Adventures is a coastal company, operated and staffed entirely by locals who love their coast and sharing its wonders with others.

In 2012, Maple Leaf was awarded the Parks Canada Sustainable Tourism Award, for promoting the appreciation of Canada’s natural, cultural and aesthetic heritage, while also protecting them. As a long time practitioner of ecotourism, Maple Leaf Adventures pioneered travel in BC’s Great Bear Rainforest and northwestern Vancouver Island and has made significant contributions to conservation. National Geographic Adventure rated Maple Leaf Adventures one of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth”. For more information, visit www.MapleLeafAdventures.com

Photo credit: Jeff Reynolds

Outer Shores Expeditions

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

Outer Shores Expeditions is a small-ship, niche adventure travel company specializing in multi-day wildlife and wilderness sailing expeditions. Remote multi-day expeditions in Haida Gwaii, the Great Bear Rainforest, and Vancouver Island are offered aboard the 70’ classic wooden schooner, Passing Cloud. Our expeditions provide extraordinary and intimate opportunities for small groups of six guests to be immersed in the diverse cultures and biologically-rich ecosystems of Canada’s Pacific coast.

Photo credit: Outer Shores

Bluewater Adventures

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

Bluewater Adventures offers “once in a lifetime” wildlife and coastal First Nations cultural experiences. Our multi-day, live aboard voyages explore the remote wilderness of coastal British Columbia and Southeast Alaska. While traveling aboard our motor-sailors, built specifically for expedition travel, we keep watch for whales and other marine mammals, coastal birds, bears, old-growth forests and ancient native villages.

Experienced biologists, renowned resource people and our skilled crew engage guests on these inspirational journeys. With the west coast as our specialty, we focus on wildlife behaviour, ecology, sustainability, and local history. A small group size of 12-13 guests ensures quality, informality, and a “hands-on” experience for all aboard.

Since 1974, Bluewater has pioneered quality wilderness and wildlife eco-adventures and while our tours raise the profile of slow, wilderness-based travel, we continue to build on our green initiatives. Bluewater Adventures adheres to the principals of ecotourism and acknowledging these efforts, has received the Tourism Industry of Canada’s Sustainable Tourism Award and the GoldStar Canada Award from Green Tourism, UK.

Bluewater Adventures supports local communities, promotes conservation, and ensures our practices are low impact. We deliver world-class knowledge about the coast, wildlife and First Nations’ cultures aboard our unique and immersive, small-ship expeditions. All aboard! Visit www.bluewateradventures.ca for more.

Photo credit: Tom Stoeri

Mothership 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

Mothership Adventures lets you experience the coast through mothership sea kayak tours: with fast and stable double kayaks, we explore coastal British Columbia rarely visited by other paddlers. Accompanied by qualified naturalist guides who help make the most out of your adventure, we kayak through glacial-fed waters amongst lushly forested islands, dotted with ancient First Nations village sites. All while searching for the fantastic local marine and terrestrial wildlife, including orca killer whales, humpback whales, dolphins, harbour seals, bald eagles, black bears, grizzly bears, and the elusive spirit bear. After each event-filled day, we return to the warmth and security of the historic Columbia III and begin an evening of gourmet cuisine, conversation, laughter, relaxation and the familiar companionship that travelling with a small group fosters.

We also offer exceptional BC eco-tours for everyone curious to learn about and explore this diverse and fascinating coast. Our popular coastal history adventure tours relive the early settlers' dramas, and the rich First Nation's history comes alive for us as we learn from our accomplished tour leader. Our sturdy skiff transports us onshore outings to view ancient totem poles, teaming tidal pools and verdant rainforests.

Our itinerary includes stunning Vancouver Island, BC destinations: the Broughton Archipelago and Johnstone Strait and the Great Bear Rainforest. Join us on an adventure to explore the most pristine and charismatic setting in Canada. Visit www.mothershipadventures.com.

Ocean Adventures Charter Company

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

In the Great Bear Rainforest, enjoy unparalleled wildlife viewing and whale watching, learn about First Nations’ culture and stewardship, walk beneath canopies of cedar, spruce and hemlock, all amidst some of the most soul-stirring landscapes on earth.

Join us in Haida Gwaii in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve to learn about the powerful Haida culture and the biodiversity of this archipelago that has earned the name the "Canadian Galapagos". Discover why "Gwaii Haanas", means "Islands of Beauty".

We believe that our smaller group sizes of 2 - 6 guests, allow our guests to really discover the heart beat of the unique and soul stirring wilderness areas we visit. Thoughtful, patient wildlife viewing is practiced so that our guests can witness the natural behaviours of the wildlife and so that we can make the least possible impact on the wildlife and their wild homes, all of which is of the utmost importance to us. While the maximum number of people allowed ashore in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve is 12, our group sizes will be considerably less, allowing our guests a very intimate and evocative experience. Visit: www.oceanadventures.bc.ca

Photo credit: Trish Boyum/ Ocean Adventures

Wilderness Tourism Association of BC

Scott Benton, Executive Director, Wilderness Tourism Association of BC

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 .

Commercial Bear Viewing Association of BC

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.

From Exploration to Restoration...

As Ecotour Operators, the images captured on regular expeditions are very different from the imagery generated by the Marine Debris Removal Initiative. As a testament to the regions that they explore, it was a natural pandemic pivot - from exploration of the BC coast, to restoration. From changing the lives of their guests through immersive travel to creating a positive and lasting impact through collaboration.


Media Contacts:

Kathryn Wu, Beattie Tartan I 604.968.5153 | Kathryn.Wu@beattiegroup.com

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