Beach Clean Up - by Mikaila Lironi
Photo by John Martin
You may have been wondering why there has been a swarm of gorgeous ladies in fetching orange vests scampering all over Lasqueti’s coastline stealing all your garbage! No, we are not actually raccoons preparing for world domination. In January 2021, the BC Provincial Government allocated a budget of $9.5 million dollars to clean up the shorelines of derelict fishing vessels and beach trash. Four different agencies received funding to complete this monolithic task. The agency in charge of cleaning around Lasqueti Island (Finnerties, Fagans, Jenkins, Sangster, Jedediah, Ballenas) was Ocean Legacy. This Canadian based Non-Profit Organization's mandate is to keep plastic out of the ocean using education, cleanup, infrastructure and policy. They also aim to provide communities with ocean stewardship and long-term solutions to keep plastic out of the ocean. Mark Bottomley has been spearheading Lasqueti Styrofoam Days in the past years and was tasked with putting together a crew and cleaning Lasqueti's shoreline. But enough with the official stuff, here's how we spent our days:
9am: Drag our tired butts to meet at False Bay or Squitty, check in, plan for the day, review weather, and tides and cry about how hot it already was.
Depending on the concentration of trash and the size of the area, pairs or more of us would be dropped on beaches with Tikki's Kennel Blend dog food bags (HUGE thanks to Tikki and her ravenous dogs). At the beginning we were indiscriminately shoving it all in the bags, but quickly learned that separating it into landfill and recyclables as we went saved a lot of time and swearing later. After several hours of styrofoam medley, hard plastic delight, and unclassified mixtures we'd break for Violet's treats and beverages. Another few hours of scrambling over rocks, log walking, cursing while climbing in and out of Mark's high sided boat, and we'd meet up for some chats, Violet's scrumptious Tiffin lunches and a much needed break.
The afternoons would pass much the same with some exciting finds, many reapplications of sunscreen, endless styrofoam, and lots of water breaks. As the two month project wore on, we took more swim breaks, learned to add electrolytes to our water, brought hats, light-long sleeved shirts, and became experts at team work, peeing just about anywhere, levering logs, digging, and spotting plastic from a 100 yards (metres). Near the end of the day, we'd sort all our dog food bags into categories, weigh and label the big white super sacks and stash the day's bounty on a convenient beach. Exhausted, thirsty and sun-weary, we'd return to port by 5 and carpool back home.
I started to call it Mark Bottomley's Beach Body Workout, it was hard, physical work in the hot sun and my shorts started to fall down. We came up with silly nicknames and laughed at each other's predictable idiosyncrasies and habits. We all had our favourite trash to collect; rope was mine. The satisfaction of removing a gnarly log boom line from under and around logs and debris without having to cut it was sweet.
Some of us collected certain beach trinkets, and if we didn't work for a few days, we'd often find treasures collected by the rest crew, saved for us on the boat. Fanny packs became beach clean-up de rigueur as they were best to hold knives, phones, spf lip-gloss and small treasures. We had each other's backs: your bag or water bottle would never be forgotten on the beach. We'd ask each other “Have you been drinking water?” “How many times have you peed today?” “What colour was it?” “When was the last time you put sunscreen on?” or when seeing a team member looking peaky: “Go sit in the shade.” and “Get your butt in the water!”.
Juggling our gardens, commitments, other jobs, social lives, partners, children, pets, and other responsibilities left us drained. Mark is a flamboyant character and I was a little wary about what working for him would be like. It turned out to be an absolute delight. He never mansplained to us, he never acted like we were anything but the most strong and capable people for the job. This evident faith he had in our abilities and competency led us to be confident in the project and work our bottoms off for him. We also knew without a doubt that he'd go to bat for us should the occasion call for it. Yes, the work was hard, but jokes and our comfort and trust in each other allowed us to work as a team and discuss everything under the sun over coffee and lunch breaks.
Over the two month project, I have made some life long friends, got to know truly fabulous women who all look fantastic in hi-vis vests, and learned there's not much you can't move with a long enough stick.
Most epic finds: fridges, a lonely tugboater's marital aid, 500kg drag net from Jenkins Island (took 3 days, a PV, come-along, axe, serrated freestore kitchen knives, box cutters, ropes, and many burly babes to remove it), so many shoes (no feet), a child's Harley Davidson Motorcycle jacket, a 20x30 shade net in pristine condition, and 3 odd messages in bottles!
Most common items: styrofoam in a variety of colours, single use plastics, lighters, single use saline tubes, plastic bottles, plastic cigar tips, tires (70+ found all together), floats, rope (so much rope), aquaculture equipment (trays, bait pots, net), bumpers, tennis balls, syringes, hard plastic bits, tampon applicators, spent plastic shot gun shells, a wide variety of flips flops.
The hardest part was finding styrofoam confetti (pits of despair) 6' (2m) deep mixed with dirt, plants and wood bits. Mark devised a shop vac, Honda 2000, extension cord system to deal with some of it, but the quantity was insurmountable. Going back to Boat Cove a month after cleaning it and finding a trash filled beach again was a reminder that the time we've spent, and the 7.4 tonnes of beach trash we've collected is merely a scratch on the surface.
What you can do: refuse to buy anything containing styrofoam, limit your use of plastic, take a bag every time you go to the beach and fill it with beach trash, if you throw balls for your dog, make sure they don't float away, remember the tide comes in and to keep your shoes up high, and don't shoot guns near the beach. Most importantly, clean up after yourself – no matter the activity. And please, please, please, don’t use styrofoam filled tires as mooring buoys or styrofoam as floatation in your docks.
Thank you to my fellow beach crew for the experience, my family and friends for dinners and dog care, Pachiel for covering my fuel shifts, and Mark for putting together an excellent, competent crew of women. And last but not least, thank you to the sun for the fetching shoe and glove tans!
By Mikaila Lironi – Sea Wench, Salish She, Burly Babe etc...