British Columbia

Barge carrying 40 tonnes of marine debris headed to Richmond

A barge full of marine debris — including some from the 2011 Japanese tsunami — is making it's way down the west coast of Vancouver Island to a recycling station in Richmond.

40 tonnes of plastic and debris collected from the west coast of Vancouver Island are on board

Volunteers prepare bags of debris on the west coast of Vancouver Island. These bags, plus hundreds of strings of fishing floats, were lifted by helicopter onto the barge. (Living Oceans Society)

A barge carrying 40 tonnes of plastics, garbage and other marine debris is slowly making its way down the west coast of Vancouver Island on its way to a recycling station in Richmond..

The recovery operation — dubbed the largest ever attempted in Canada —  first started as an attempt to remove the material deposited by the 2011 Japanese tsunami.

Now, Karen Wristen, executive director of the Living Oceans Society who is coordinating the effort, says only a third of the debris is from Japan.

"The rest comes from every country in the Pacific Rim, including Canada I'm afraid."

Volunteers have been working on the coast to recover the debris over the spring and summer which Wristen describes as mainly plastic and styrofoam.

The debris was collected into large bags on each beach and a helicopter has been transferring the bags onto the barge as it makes its way down the coast.

Wristen expects the barge to arrive in Richmond on Monday, weather permitting.

The debris will then be sorted at a recycling facility and anything that cannot be recycled will go to a Vancouver landfill.

Lack of funding

The clean-up operations have relied on a gift from the Japanese government, which gave a million-dollar payment to Canada after the 2011 tsunami to help with coastal cleanup.

"We're using the very last of that money. It wasn't quite enough to cover the costs of bringing all this in."

The operation also hit a snag when the Canadian navy had to withdraw the tug boat it had initially volunteered to help with the towing.

Volunteers collect plastic and other debris from a beach on Vancouver Island. (Clear the Coast/Facebook)

Fortunately, Wristen says, many people donated enough funding to get the project underway.

While this operation is being dubbed the largest marine debris recovery operation attempted in Canada, Wristen says there's plenty more debris to collect.

"There's easily 10 times as much as we've brought in. It's heartbreaking."

With files from On the Island

To hear the interview, click on the link labelled Barge carrying debris makes its way to Richmond