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BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 2: The work

November 6, 2020

So what did we do out there? This post is part two of my four-part series about the BC Coastal Cleanup – more formally known as the Marine Debris Removal Initiative, which I took part in this past September.

This post is instalment two of four about my experience on the MDRI. Find the other ones here:

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 1: The project

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 3: The nature of the debris

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 4: The heli-lifting!

Post 3 will explain what we found out there – the nature of the marine debris – and Post 4 will show photos and video of our helicopter lifting operations, at the end of the expedition.

Mornings started pretty early. Most days breakfast was around 7am (socially distanced of course – for the first 14 days, meals were the only times we were allowed to remove our masks). Then we headed out in the skiffs – always with a pre-determined destination, but also always checking out the shorelines, to narrow down which of the MANY debris-ridden places we should focus our efforts on.

As mentioned in Post 1, the “beach” cleanup was really not on beaches at all… it was pretty much all rocky shoreline. But still, there are coves and curves in the coastlines which tend to gather the floating debris – everything from soft drink bottles to commercial fishing debris (lots of nets and rope, in addition to all the floats) to children’s toys and sandals and other miscellaneous garbage.

What we did was land at those rocky coves – some of them pretty protected from the ocean swell, and some of them pretty hairy with a lot of wave movement (and unfortunately, that’s when we tend to NOT have our cameras out) – in crews of three to five. We each grabbed some extra-tough garbage bags, and hauled stuff back to huge white lift-bags that would later be removed by helicopter.

This great time-lapse by Jeff Reynolds (Insta: @jkr_photo) shows the procedure.

Depending upon what we found there, we might be there for an hour or maybe for up to half a day. Any really large items – like strings of plastic floats, or hunks of styrofoam, were tied to the outside of the bags.

Sometimes we took a quick snack break on shore:

Sometimes we only had time to grab a quick snack in the skiff between sites (I did not do the Doritos – but I will tell you, the chefs treated us pretty well). That’s photographer Jeff on the right.

Everything was weighed going into the bags, and the total weight of each bag was recorded. We needed to know the exact (well, roughly exact) weights, because the final week of the expedition would be the heli-ops.

At the end of the expedition, each bag would be lifted onto a barge by helicopter, and the maximum the helicopter could reliably lift was 320 kg. (Post 4 will have some cool video of that!) If the bags were light, e.g. lots of styrofoam and plastic bottles, the helicopter would be able to lift two or even three bags at a time – a substantial cost saving compared to flying back and forth).

If there was just a bit too much to fit into the lift-bag – but not enough to justify a new lift-bag – we would haul the debris back to our skiff and take it back to the ship, to be picked up by helicopter straight off Cascadia’s deck later. This is a video – also by Jeff Reynolds – carting stuff down to the shoreline to be picked up in the skiff – that’s me in the turquoise shirt:

A lot of what we found was huge ropes and nets – all debris from the commercial fishing industry. Post 3 will talk more about that. Not only was this fishing debris the most abundant material we found, it was also the most time-consuming to deal with.

Huge and heavy ropes, some weighing 100s of kg, were tangled around and under the driftwood.

We cut them into pieces with little serrated kitchen knives to remove as much of them as possible – feeling terrible about the microplastics these materials were shedding (and which they would do, with or without our intervention).

Depending upon how challenging the site was (in terms for moving over the terrain, as well as how much time was spent digging and sawing up ropes and nets), each team would generally fill between one and three bags per site. We could usually hit two sites every morning and another two in the afternoon.

The bags were tied up and left as high up on the shoreline as possible – aiming to get them above the high high-tide mark (not always easy) so we could collect them by helicopter at the end of the expedition. More about that in Post 4!

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