Trash is covering the Coast’s beaches and a dedicated group of locals is taking action. (Cosy Lawson - Photo)

Tofino locals organize massive cleanup of Clayoquot Sound

“It’s beyond the critical stage now.”

A colossal cleanup of Clayoquot Sound is about to commence.

An impressive roster of long-time locals, including ship captains, divers, pilots and savvy social media gurus, has come together to create Clayoquot Cleanup: Restore the Shore.

The project involves a colossal two-year effort to clear marine debris from every nook and cranny on the Coast.

Clayoquot Cleanup has split the Sound into five zones and each one will be tackled in a phased approach that is expected to take two years to complete. The first zone to be covered encompasses the beaches, shores and intertidal zones around Hesquiaht Harbour and work will start on June 1.

Following the two-year effort, annual maintenance cleanups will be done to keep what was cleaned pristine.

“This has to be maintained in perpetuity. This isn’t a one and done thing,” Tofino’s Josh Temple told the Westerly News.

“The first sweep through, over the next two years, is going to be a tremendous undertaking. It’s going to require a lot of funding, effort, technical experience, and resources. But, once we get the first couple of years over with, then it’s not going to take anywhere near as much to maintain.”

Temple is one of the Clayoquot Cleanup’s founders and will lead the effort’s marine operations.

He said groups like Surfrider Pacific Rim have done a “great job” organizing shoreline cleanups, but synthetic materials have been piling up untouched around some of the Coast’s harder to reach locations for decades.

“Unfortunately the largest areas of Clayoquot Sound and the most inaccessible and the most remote are the ones that are suffering from the most accumulation and the least amount of effort…We’re going to make an immediate impact by removing the debris that’s accumulated for literally generations,” he said. “All of that stuff gets shuffled on every high tide and every storm. So, if you don’t tackle a massive swath of coastline all at once, with a huge amount of effort and assets and volunteers, then you’re hardly making a dent because everything that’s adjacent to the area you just cleaned, from the north and south, is just going to wash back in and re-pollute the area you just concentrated on.”

Temple has lived in Tofino for 26 years and has been involved in a variety of formal and informal cleanup efforts. He said Clayoquot Cleanup’s founders are sick of seeing trash covering their shorelines and aren’t willing to take it anymore.

“Enough is enough. We need to tackle this and we need to tackle it right,” he said. “It’s beyond the critical stage now. This is something that is in crisis stage and we have to deal with it. It must be done.”

He added debris is not contained to shorelines as animals cart various pieces into the forests.

“You’re finding buoys and plastics, that have washed in from the shore, way back in the woods because bears and eagles and all sorts of other wildlife have drug it back,” he said.

The cleared debris will be removed using a large barge.

“Some of it is going to be recycled. Some of it is going to be repurposed. But, certainly, it’s all going to be dealt with in a responsible and sustainable manner,” Temple said.

He hopes the project raises awareness of the West Coast’s debris issue and motivates locals and visitors to clean up after themselves.

“I think, to a large extent, most people don’t really understand how bad it is in some areas of the sound because of the remote nature of these shores. When they see that barge come into the harbour loaded with tons and tons of debris, that’s really going to raise a few eyebrows and hammer home the point,” he said. “Ethically, I think, we have a responsibility as inhabitants of this region to maintain the integrity of the ecosystem. Furthermore, when you’re talking about a bunch of local communities here in Clayoquot Sound that depend heavily on ecotourism and the value of that ecosystem being healthy, this is a direct threat on not only the health and the viability of the resource, but on everybody’s livelihoods.”

Volunteers will be needed in a variety of capacities throughout the project and anyone interested in lending a hand should check out www.clayoquotcleanup.com.

Temple said he’s been inspired by the “tremendous amount” of corporate and individual donations the group has received, but expressed frustration over what he’s perceived to be a lack of interest from the federal government.

“Thus far, we’re completely community funded…We haven’t seen a dime from the government and that’s completely wrong as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “Our goal here is to raise awareness and force the government to recognize that this is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with.

The West Coast’s federal Member of Parliament, NDP Gord Johns, said he’s committed to lobbying for funding towards cleanup efforts like Clayoquot Cleanup. Stayed tuned to Wednesday’s print edition of the Westerly News to read about the local MP’s ideas and efforts.

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