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Volunteers clear Florencia Bay

Derelict vessel investigation prompts emergency cleanup response.

Local beach lovers spent their May Long Weekend clearing a significant amount of Styrofoam off Florencia Bay.

“It was absolutely vital to get those toxic pieces of Styrofoam off the beach before they were broken down and posed a risk to marine animals,” Surfrider Pacific Rim co-chair Michelle Hall told the Westerly News.

“We collected 506 items in total, and were able to clear a further 256 items away from the tideline. That’s a lot of debris we saved from entering the ocean.”

The beach cleaning efforts were part of an emergency response launched by Surfrider during an investigation into the derelict vessel that’s still sitting on Florencia Beach after crashing ashore on April 21.

Hall said several locals asked Surfrider whether the organization planned to clear the vessel from the sand so volunteers went to investigate.

“A few people went to Florencia on [May 21] to assess the scale of debris and make a plan. It was at that point of witnessing the level of Styrofoam debris on the beach that Surfrider decided to take an immediate emergency response clean up,” she said.

“It’s also a great opportunity for Surfrider to become move involved with the bigger issue of derelict boats on this Coast and work together with Parks Canada, tourism organizations and local officials to protect what we love.”

While the vessel itself could not be cleared, Surfrider reached through social media channels to pull the community together and remove the Styrofoam from the beach and Hall was delighted by the response.

“We had a crew of five people join the emergency response clean up on [May 22], but saw groups coming from the beach loaded with Styrofoam and heard reports from other locals including [Pacific Rim National] Park staff whom had also been and started the clear up,” she said. “At such short notice on a long weekend, it was a great effort from volunteers and we are really grateful for the work they do.”

She added she was not surprised to see locals rally together and put their backs into protecting their beach.

“The community of the Pacific Rim are dedicated to protecting what they love,” she said. “This is people’s livelihoods, their playground, their kids’ futures, and it’s not taken for granted.”

She hopes Surfrider can harness this love to engage more volunteers.

“This community cares deeply about the beach, and Surfrider is working hard to connect with this beach-loving community to develop a voice that can be heard for the region,” she said. “A voice that continues to share these beautiful beaches with the world, but one that can educate and bring awareness when it comes to keeping the oceans, wildlife and beaches free from pollution.”

Anyone interested in volunteering with Surfrider is encouraged to reach out to surfriderpacificrim@gmail.com.

Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly she was thrilled to hear about the local efforts to remove the Styrofoam but added the derelict vessel issue is a tough nut to crack as the responsibility for removal, and where to send the bill, remains unclear.

“Derelict vessels are a concern up and down the BC coast and it is very difficult to navigate the myriad of jurisdictions and responsibilities that various agencies and levels of government hold,” she said. “I know of several local governments that have simply had to foot the bill to remove vessels rather than wait years for others to sort out who should pay.”

Parks Canada spokesperson Rae Kingdon told the Westerly the Pacific Rim National Park is putting a plan in place to remove the vessel.

“We appreciate that local community members share our concern over the derelict vessel that recently washed up on the shores of Florencia Beach. Clearing our beaches of ocean debris is a challenging and ongoing process in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, and derelict vessels are not uncommon in coastal British Columbia,” Kingdon said.

“We have now completed our due diligence in establishing the sequence of events leading up to the vessel coming ashore and the ownership of the vessel, and in assessing viable options. After performing a thorough assessment of the vessel, and the challenges presented by the remote location, Parks Canada staff are now finalising plans to remove the boat.”