“Earlier this year on the BC coast there were three humpback whales that were entangled with fishing gear so that’s one of the risks whether it’s crab traps or just derelict fishing nets — whales, dolphins, otters and sea lions — it gets circled around them and they just don’t know how to get out of it. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to clean it up because of the risk to marine mammals,” explains Burke. “Secondly, all of this plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, until eventually it’s in micro plastics that the fish are eating, and honestly then when we eat the fish we’re also getting that plastic into our body.
“Third thing is, I was astounded by how much styrofoam there was. When it gets washed back into the sea, seabirds are eating it and they’re starving to death. Their stomachs are full from things they can’t digest like styrofoam and then that’s it, they starve to death so styrofoam in particular is really nasty.”
Burke says a significant amount of the debris on the coast stems from the fishing industry, such as lines, nets, buoys, floats, as well as styrofoam.
“What was also then the third ingredient was water bottles and we didn’t see this until single use water bottles came into existence 15 years ago and now it’s probably by number one of the biggest things that’s just washing up constantly on the coast,” he says.
Considering they were operating close to Fall Equinox, when the first big storm systems tend to roll in from the Pacific, for the most part it was smooth sailing during the expeditions for the MDRI crew.
“As wise mariners, we know that weather dictates our movements on the outer coast and, of course, we were on the outer coast the whole time and we were doing it late in the season, so we got very, very lucky for weather,” says Smith. “You put $15 million dollars of assets of all these ships with all these 100 crew collecting garbage and you’re taking a certain risk that you are going to be able to come back in two week’s time and pick up that garbage when the barge and helicopter arrive.”
When it was confirmed that 100% of the lift bags they’d filled with debris were removed, he put out a message over the public marine radio to the group members, “‘Alright MDRI fleet, this is Cascadia, the last bag has been lifted — it’s a wrap. We’ve achieved our goals here, well done every body.’ There was just all kinds of hooting and hollering on the radio. It was quite exciting. Best [experience] of my life.”