Major expeditions normally require months, or even years, of planning.
However, most of us on the recent six-week Marine Debris Removal Initiative expedition — hashtagged as the #BCCoastalCleanup — had only a few weeks to prepare for it. In spite of not knowing exactly what I was signing up for, I eagerly leapt in.
Unusual expedition planning — but this is a very unusual year.
In normal times, Kevin Smith, CEO and co-owner of Maple Leaf Adventures, runs ecotourism expeditions along the coastal waters of British Columbia and southern Alaska on his company’s three small ships.
This past spring, though, Smith realized that the coming summer’s tourism season would probably not be going ahead as usual. That’s when he came up with the idea for the marine debris removal expedition: an initiative that would keep his own and other small-ship tourism companies running, while providing employment for guides and other on-board staff who had had their summer contracts cancelled (like myself).At the same time they’d be giving back to the First Nations communities in whose territories these companies operate, by cleaning up a portion of British Columbia’s wild coastlines.
Smith pitched the idea to a few fellow business-owners, then spent months writing proposals. By mid-summer, he succeeded at getting his project funded by the BC Government, through their new Clean Coast, Clean Waters Initiative Fund.
However, it was late in the year to be planning a major expedition up BC’s north-central coast — hence the urgent call for participants.
I arrived in Port Hardy, the northernmost town on Vancouver Island, to join Maple Leaf’s catamaran Cascadia, for Expedition 2. The first three-week expedition — nine small ships — had collected and removed 51 tonnes of debris along BC’s central coast. Our goal was to collect at least as much again, if not more.
Along with the rest of the crew, I had been COVID-tested a few days before embarking. It was unlikely anyone had boarded with COVID, but even so, we had strict conditions for operating: an outbreak on any one of the ships would result in that crew turning around and leaving the expedition.
For the first 14 days, mask-wearing inside was mandatory except during meals. Public areas on the vessels were wiped down or disinfected with a fogger several times a day. Ships carried only half of their capacity, to allow for appropriate physical distancing. Cascadia, the largest ship in our fleet of nine and with a capacity for 34 crew and passengers, carried only fifteen. We wore our masks outdoors too: in the skiffs, as well as any time we were working close to one another on the ship’s deck or on shore.