The ground crew who packed scattered debris into these mega bags to be helicoptered off the coast. Jim Bleaney, Jill Laviolette, Ashley Tapp, Jeremy Browne, Lachlan Palmer, Tiffany Fisher and Jessica Brown. (Submitted)

Heli-clean that North Vancouver Island beach

Volunteers got 17 cubic metres of ghost gear off a remote west coast beach last weekend

A group of ‘beach huggers’ visited a remote west coast beach on northern Vancouver Island to #cleanthecoast last weekend. The group of friends and volunteers organized a helicopter-supported beach clean, declining to confirm the location, saying “if you know it, you know it.”

It’s hard for people to access, but for ocean debris this beach is a great parking lot.

North Island volunteers on the ground filled 17 mega bags — roughly 17 cubic meters of junk — from a remote beach recently: pieces of ships, styrofoam blocks, buoys, ripped up bottles, shoes, and ghost nets. Wait, shoes?

“It’s because we’re on the coast and the currents bring stuff here. Japan has a tsunami … and they end up here,” said organizer Jill Laviolette.

It’s the small bits of plastic that bother her the most, because they float back out to sea.

“Animals think they’re food and eat them and they die. That just kills me. I can’t sleep at night.”

She’s been picking up plastic from beaches ever since she can remember. Growing up in Holberg she’d find plastic bottles washed in the long inlet from the Pacific Ocean, and it’s only getting worse.

With so many helicopters already working in the area, she thought it would be a natural fit to get them to help deal with some of this refuse.

Jim Bleaney, Ashley Tapp, Jeremy Browne, Jessica Brown, Tiffany Fisher and Lachlan Palmer and Laviolette were the ground crew.

They thought West Coast Helicopters pilot Mike Aldersey, who donated his time, would have to make several trips to collect all the bags, but with such light cargo he managed in just four to five flights.

Bleaney with Fortech Industries was originally going to sponsor the trip, covering fuel costs etc., but West Coast Helicopters decided to cover their own fuel costs, freeing up Bleaney to cover the next trip Laviolette is planning for September. A local trucker, Dan Carter, volunteered to pick up the full bags of garbage from a drop-off point and transfer them to 7 Mile Landfill, where the Regional District of Mount Waddington waived tipping fees.

Laviolette offered to run a fundraiser to cover fuel costs, but Carter refused.

“No, I care about this. This is what I do,” he told Laviolette.

RELATED: Shellfish industry get funds to clean up at Island sites and beyond

RELATED: DFO defends ‘ghost gear’ clean-up grants around Vancouver Island

RELATED: Volunteers to help clean waterways and improve fish habitat in Zeballos

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Styrofoam blocks and buoys washed up on the beach. (Ashley Tapp)

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