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With tourists gone amid COVID-19, B.C. small tour operators shift to cleaning coastline of debris

Small tour operators who would normally be showing off B.C.’s wilderness areas to tourists have been put to work cleaning up the coastline.

A $7-million provincial program launched near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic had six tour operators put their idle ships to work. Thus far, they’ve collected more than 100 tonnes of debris, such as fishing gear and plastics, from B.C.’s coast.

“The communities in that area are very remote, they’re only accessible by air or by boat,” Scott Benton of the Wilderness Tourism Association said.

“They have been asking for this cleanup to be done for a long time. But it’s a long ways from the centre in B.C. and people don’t realize the scale of the problem that’s happening on our shoreline.”

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The crews have already recovered almost 50,000 plastic bottles and expect to double what they collect this year. The material will be shipped to Vancouver Island for processing.

The program has also employed about 180 crew members and residents of Indigenous coastal communities.

“Fortunately, these companies already had quite functional relationships with the Indigenous communities in that area,” Benton said. “[Indigenous communities] welcomed this opportunity both from an employment perspective, because all the communities have been able to participate, but also because we’re cleaning up their backyards that they’re still very dependent on for their food sources as we are.

“This is really about environmental restoration.”

Click to play video: B.C.’s tourism restart plan

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