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Friday, June 6, 2014

Trash into treasure

By Will Soltau

Last fall Kerri, our Office Administrator blogged about how her husband Tyler found treasures amongst the trash while taking part in a shoreline cleanup. The two treasures—a glass ball and a bottle with a message inside—found on the same day is a rare occurrence indeed. Finding either one evokes an uncommon combination of feelings mixing amazement at finding such a rarity with awe that such fragile beauty could survive the turbulent elements of the beach. Toss in a dash of wonder over from where it came and how it ended up in front of you. I say this from personal experience having myself found a few glass balls. That is the lure that hooks a person on beachcombing.

The problem these days is that beachcombing means wading through tonnes of trash to find a treasure. If only that trash could be turned into treasure, an incentive like that would make our work a little easier. Refining the ocean plastic into useable oil, using it as raw material in 3D printers and certifying it as an ocean-friendly ingredient in packaging material are a few potential global solutions that we have been involved with. All are still in their infancy and none have really gotten very far off the ground yet. But then there are the home-made solutions at the local level. Repurposing is a popular incentive to beachcombers and artists. Colorful crab buoys and plastic balls are ubiquitous yard art in many coastal towns. In really remote communities anything useable is snatched up quickly. Large plastic oyster floats get repurposed as flotation in docks.

A recent example of turning what could have easily become trash into treasure is this (obvious) Japanese skiff that was found recently by a surfer friend of mine on the rocks at a very remote part of Vancouver Island’s west coast.

It was a little beat up but not broken beyond repair. He knew if he left it where it was, the skiff would soon get pounded to pieces by the tide and surf. So my surfer friend floated it a few miles to a nearby sand beach where it was less exposed to the elements and tied it up to a tree. Later, other friends of mine stumbled upon it while beachcombing large oyster floats and sent me some photos and a report for our interactive Clear the Coast map. Already knowing how it had gotten to where it was, I made introductions all around and we went back to gather more identification so we could report it to the powers-that-be. A third trip out for patching made it seaworthy enough for salvage.

Now ready for removal, I brought in a third friend of mine to tow the little skiff off the beach with his fishing boat. The first attempt had to be scuttled when the seas wouldn’t cooperate and we returned to town empty handed. But while waiting out the weather we came across huge accumulations of trash while beachcombing in Sea Otter Cove. We vowed to return for a cleanup there but that’s another story.

Eventually the weather improved enough to launch the skiff and it was moved to a more secure location where it sits today while the search for its owner in Japan continues.

Who knows what will become of this so-called treasure. The point is that even though the Japanese skiff was found in a very inaccessible location, it was worth our time and effort to remove it before it got trashed. If only the same were true with all the other trash on our shores.

Reducing the amount of debris entering the ocean is a key objective of our Clear the Coast Campaign. It’s a no-brainer. Cleaning up what’s already out there to restore our shores is number two. It’s also the right thing to do but it’s a huge job. Lots of folks are interested in volunteering their time to help clean up a beach (and maybe find a glass ball). Getting them out to remote shorelines where debris accumulates, then safely bringing them and what they collect back again takes a healthy dose of vitamin M. We need your support. That’s why we are actively fundraising to clean up Sea Otter Cove—a habitat rich area of northwestern Vancouver Island. Please check it out. There are some cool perks available if you donate.

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