“Anthropogenic debris” is the catch-all term Capt. Josh Temple uses to describe assorted jetsam on the bottom of Alberni Harbour.
According to a recent sub-tidal survey conducted by Coastal Restoration Society (CRS), harbour debris accumulated over the course of a century or more includes fishing gear, rusting cables and pipes, pulley blocks, crab traps, sunken boats and engines, a dumpster and lots of discarded tires.
Henderson Charlie and his Ahousaht team aboard the dive boat Seeker were in harbour waters in late February, documenting the debris.
“There are a lot of things we can’t see just with all the sediment from the river,” Charlie said as he recalled some of what they found.
“It’s 100 years of industrial, commercial and recreational waterfront use,” said Mike Carter of the Port Alberni Port Authority (PAPA).
Though not directly involved in the project, PAPA applauds the initiative.
“We’re ecstatic to see this happen because we don’t know what’s in the water,” Carter said.
Temple, executive director of the Tofino-based society, said Port Alberni is not much different from other west coast harbours.
“There’s a long history of industrial activity along the B.C. coast, so we’re seeing similar results elsewhere,” Temple said. “It is a broader issue.”
Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Ghost Gear Fund has channeled $17 million into 49 projects on the east and west coasts.
CRS has focused on removing aquaculture waste and ghost fishing gear—materials lost or tossed by the commercial fishing industry—in Clayoquot Sound, Barkley Sound and Sooke Basin.
Now they are surveying the coast on a regional level in order to set priorities for recovering debris. When complete, the survey will be shared with First Nations, as well as PAPA, the city and senior governments, Temple said.
CRS awaits additional funding in order to follow through with the harbour cleanup. Those funds are expected to flow once the federal fiscal year begins in April, Temple said.
Charlie and his crew — including his brother Greg and his nephew Jermaine Bulwer — hope to follow through with the cleanup work. Descending to muddy depths may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but they thrive on the work.
“We all enjoy what we do,” Charlie said. “It’s a good feeling to be part of this project and taking care of the coast.”