On a January day, armed with reusable cloth bags and rubber gloves, 16 environmentally-minded volunteers wound their way through an old-growth forest path before arriving at the grey sand beach. Their mission? To comb and clean up China Beach; a beautiful stretch of coastline on the Juan de Fuca Trail.
The group hunts for garbage and recyclable products left behind and other refuse dragged in by the tide. The volunteers have found many plastic water bottles, crab traps, multiple pieces of Styrofoam, broken pieces of plastic, fishing floats and the best find of the day; a functioning Go-pro underwater camera.
Unfortunately this was no scavenger hunt. Surfrider Foundation, a volunteer run non-profit organization, is dedicated to managing beach clean-ups to promote conservation and awareness as to how we impact our beaches and coastal areas.
In 2001 Danny Amato; an artist and surfer, joined Surfrider through the Clean Water Classic in Westport, Washington. In 2004 he co-founded the Victoria chapter with colleague Brooke Finlayson. Amato’s heart lies in his work.
“I am concerned about what effect the garbage will have on marine life and the coastal environment,” said Amato, who has been surfing since he was a kid during family trips to Tofino.
The worst marine debris ever found during a Surfrider clean-up was a car battery, engine block and a truck load of rusted logging cables all at Jordan River. Some of Amato’s best finds include Japanese glass fishing floats found on the Brooks Peninsula along with a Japanese emergency floating beacon shaped like a large bowling pin — found well before the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan.
The beach clean-ups have become synonymous with the term ‘combing the coast’; an initiative brought together by Surfrider Foundation Vancouver Island Chapter (South Island), in partnership with BC Parks and the Canadian Coast Guard Pacific Region. Volunteers comb the coast from Island View Beach near Sidney to Port Renfrew and sometimes even as far as Flores Island.
Equipment needed for the two-hour clean-ups are provided by Surfrider along with hot drinks and snacks. Participants are advised to bring clothing appropriate for the weather and good footwear for maneuvering the slippery logs and seaweed encrusted rocks. Amato looks forward to the monthly sessions because, “it brings together coastal minded people.”
When Surfrider first opened up in Victoria, the organization was not well known and it soon faded away. Amato and others, stoked the embers of the foundation back to life, and today it is thriving with about 150 members.
You don’t have to be a surfer to join Surfrider, Amato assured. “Everyone is welcome, it’s a large diverse group of beach lovers. My hope is for Surfrider Foundation to increase its local membership and awareness.”
At times it can be tricky to get everyone together. “It’s tough getting people to commit to giving away their free time. We hope for the best turn out,” he said. Clean-ups are usually held once a month. Sites and times are posted on the website: http://vancouverisland.surfrider.org/
The next combing of a beach will be held on Sunday, Feb. 12 from 11 a.m to 1 p.m. at Gordon River in Port Renfrew on Pacheena Road.