British Columbia

One sunken boat pollutes ocean as much as 480,000 plastic straws, non-profit says

More than a thousand abandoned boats are disintegrating along British Columbia's coastline, leaking plastic pollutants into the oceans, and a local non-profit is struggling to remove them faster than they're appearing.

Dead Boat Disposal Society one of several groups working with B.C. gov't to find solution to abandoned vessels

The Dead Boat Disposal Society retrieves and removes abandoned boats from B.C.'s coast. (John Roe/Dead Boat Disposal Society)

More than a thousand abandoned boats are disintegrating along British Columbia's coastline, leaking plastic pollutants into the oceans, and a local non-profit is struggling to remove them faster than they're appearing.

John Roe, operations director of the Dead Boat Disposal Society, has been cleaning up derelict boats from B.C.'s waters for more than 25 years. 

Along with similar groups, the Dead Boat Disposal Society has been working closely with government officials as plans are underway to look for more innovative solutions to deal with abandoned vessels.  

"Our oceans have been overlooked," Roe said. "We've got to treat this as a waste management issue."

The federal government estimates that there are about 1,400 abandoned boats in B.C., but Roe says there are at least a thousand more beyond that. 

It's not just the boats themselves ⁠that are the problem: it's all the pollutants seeping into the environment like fuel, oil and plastics.  

"The boat is usually the focus for everybody because that's what you see," said Roe. "But it's everything associated with the boat."

Abandoned boats aren't just an eyesore on the shore ⁠— they're leaking pollutants like plastics into the environment, says John Roe. (John Roe/Dead Boat Disposal Society)

Roe says the amount of plastic in a single 25-foot vessel is roughly equivalent to about 480,000 plastic straws being dumped into the ocean — a timely comparison, given the conversations around banning straws and other single-use items that end up in the oceans.  

"Most [of the boats] are plastic and every single one of these is full of garbage," he said. 

Federal funding and grant programs supported the Dead Boat Disposal Society in removing about 100 boats over the past three years — but Roe says much more needs to be done considering the many hundreds more littering the coastline.

He wants to see greater emphasis on recycling old boats — as, right now, about 90 per cent of each vessel ends up in a landfill — and more accountability on boat owners who abandon their vessels.

John Roe has been cleaning up derelict boats from B.C.’s waters for more than 25 years. (John Roe/Dead Boat Disposal Society)
 

Sheila Malcolmson, MLA for Nanaimo and parliamentary secretary for the environment, says those types of issues are becoming a greater priority at the provincial and federal level. 

"What happens, we hear, is people find it hard to dispose of an old boat, and expensive, and so it's easier for them to just neglect their responsibility and just let it float off on the next high tide," she said.

One of the options, she said, is a vessel turn-in program similar to the provincial one for vehicles — something that's existed in Washington state and Oregon for more than a decade — to catch the boats before they're abandoned and end up at the bottom of the ocean. 

Malcolmson says she's visited several coastal communities this summer looking for solutions to derelict vessels, and is preparing a report of recommendations to present to the Ministry of Environment later in the fall. 

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