Shipping containers, Styrofoam piling up in Tofino area

Clean-up crews are mobilizing to tackle smashed shipping containers and countless pieces of plastic foam showing up along kilometres of beach near Tofino on the Island’s west coast.

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Vargas Island Provincial Park are among sites where the onslaught of marine debris is appearing on sandy beaches and rocky areas.

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>>>Click here to watch a video report about wrecked containers from Ukeedaze magazine.

This garbage is believed to be remnants of 35 shipping containers that tipped off the Hanjin Seattle container ship during rough weather on Nov. 3. The vessel is now docked in Seattle.

Transport Canada said it has tried to contact the ship’s owners, who are not replying. A Canadian Coast Guard official said the agency does not deal with marine debris such as this.

South Korea’s Hanjin Shipping Co., the ship’s owner, collapsed financially in late August and is in receivership.

Parks staff and a group of volunteers are working to arrange the clean up themselves.

Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne said Tuesday: “There seems to be no co-ordinated system in place for when there is some kind of maritime accident. We see that with the Nathan E. Stewart. We seem to be seeing that with shipping containers. There’s no co-ordinated responsibility.”

Premier Christy Clark called for a quicker and more effective federal response after the Nathan E. Stewart tug sank off Bella Bella a month ago.

Osborne said is important to tackle this kind of debris as quickly as possible.

Renee Wissink, manager of resource conservation for the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, said the problem is beyond the park’s boundaries, as debris is washing up along the coast in different jurisdictions.

“It is a big problem, but it is kind of one of those things — how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. So if everybody is doing a little bit for us, then it does in the end become a significant amount of debris that is removed from our beaches,” Wissink said.

One broken container has washed up on Long Beach. Another is at nearby Combers Beach, known for its fine white sand. Wissink hopes heavy equipment will be able to go onto those beaches and haul the containers away, likely to landfills.

The park reserve runs 125 kilometres along the coast. The containers were refrigerated units lined with plastic foam insulation.

The plastic foam worries Wissink, who said it will break down into tiny beads. “It does get ingested by fish, by birds, who mistake it for something edible.”

It can clog up their digestive tracts and deliver toxins into their systems, he said.

Marine debris coming ashore is an ongoing issue for the park.

First on the agenda is getting an idea of the scope of the problem. A helicopter surveyed Long Beach and there’s been a quick look at the Broken Group Islands, also part of the reserve. Reserve staff were on the West Coast Trail on Monday scouting the shore. “We are trying to put together some times and days and programs where we can get out onto the beaches and try and retrieve, in particular, some of these larger pieces of Styrofoam before they get a chance to break down.”

The Surfrider Foundation is calling for volunteers to turn out on Saturday at 9:15 a.m. at Schooner Cove parking lot for a three-hour cleaning blitz. So far, 30 people have signed up and more are welcome, said Michelle Hall of the Pacific Rim chapter.

Anyone willing to help is asked to contact volunteercoordinator@pacificrim.surfrider.org.

Kayaker Dan Lewis, executive director of Clayquot Action, discovered about 0.8 kilometres of debris on Medallion Beach in Vargas Island Provincial Park on Saturday. Stormy weather sends debris onto the beach, where logs are floating and “smashing around at high tide,” he said. “It is pretty disheartening to see that.”

Lewis points to recent federal vows to support the coast.

“You have our federal government promising big money to protect the coast but then they don’t have that built up yet. There’s no capacity to deal with this.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

 

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