A combination of professional cleanup and grassroots cleanup is underway on a previously pristine beach on northern Vancouver Island that is now filled with crushed debris spilled from a shipping container while local political leaders seek the responsible minister.
The Canadian Coast Guard says coastline cleanup has begun in the Cape Scott area, where crews hired by MV Zim Kingston’s owners are collecting dozens of bags of styrofoam and moving 40 refrigerators inland, out of reach of ocean waves.
And while the agency says it is not looking for volunteers to collect garbage, not-for-profit groups and individuals have rolled up their sleeves over the weekend to collect water-filled items ranging from consumables and clothing to appliances and car accessories.
“Seeing people come up from Campbell River and Courtenay and out of Port Hardy and Port McMeil and just try to pick up every little bit of Styrofoam up from the beach before it breaks was just phenomenal,” said Jill Laviolette, co-founder of non-profit shoreline cleanup group Epic Exeo.
“Seeing the amount of plastic toys washed up on a pristine west coast beach is a little stunning.”
Work is underway as the island’s new Democratic MPs say they have not heard from the recently announced Minister of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, Vancouver-Quadra’s Joyce Murray.
“There was no fisheries minister when the incident took place because the prime minister delayed the implementation of his government decisions for over a month,” said the federal NDP deputy critic for fisheries and the Courtenay-Alberni MP. Gord Johns.
“Finally, we have a minister and we can not get hold of her. We have a rudderless ship. ”
INVITES FOR MORE FEDERAL ASSISTANCE
Seawater is under federal jurisdiction, and Johns hammered at the Trudeau government for leaving so much to Danaos, the shipping company responsible for Zim Kingston.
“They got it completely backwards,” Johns said. “They should implement a technical response team immediately when incidents like this occur. Then they can get the company that failed to protect their cargo and hold them accountable. We should use all resources as these containers are obviously floating on the sea, and they arrive on our shores and break, and if they sink, that means they will arrive on our shores in the coming weeks and years. “
Four containers from the trans-Pacific ship floated up the west coast of Vancouver Island to the far northwestern beaches along Cape Palmsterson, where one broke and spilled its material along the shoreline, much of which was hit by pieces of strong ocean waves.
On Friday, the Living Oceans Society warned supporters and the public to avoid the area as experts conducted assessments and made plans, writing, “At this point, additional people on the beaches represent only one other danger to be addressed.”
It still did not prevent well-meaning volunteers and lookie-loos from visiting.
There is a sense or urgency to do the careful work of collecting every single scrap of powdered Styrofoam from packaging materials and brightly colored plastics that are already being eaten by birds and other creatures.
“Some of those things are small enough for other marine life to consume,” said Living Ocean Society CEO Karen Wristen.
“It blocks the digestive tract and makes them think they are full when they are not, so they do not eat properly. It can impair survival.”
It was the consumer goods that attracted some people who walked away with rain boots, toys and other things that remained intact despite the fire that hit the vessel and the powerful storm that sent 109 containers out into the Pacific Ocean.
The Coast Guard is still looking for the rest of the containers and is asking the public to report any sightings.
Laviolette suggested that those who want to help clean up will have ample opportunity to do so in the coming months – and probably longer.
“This is a disaster,” she said. “There is no group (that) will be able to take care of this. It will be everyone who tries in the coming years and solves this problem.”