Looking for a way to make an unruly memory? Sign up to an adventure where you hop on a boat with a group of people you may or may not know, headed to a place where only non-human creatures reside, with your most weather resistant camping gear, and a few days of nourishment. Fortunately for us, this is what we get to experience all sweet summer long on the west coast of Vancouver Island. These remote shoreline cleanups are among the greatest adventures of Surfrider Pacific Rim’s efforts, and provide us with experiences that fuel our passion for protecting this great place through the rest of our campaigns and programs. If you’re not already familiar, Surfrider Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the ocean, beaches and waves through a powerful activist network.
Operating between Tofino and Ucluelet is the Surfrider Pacific Rim Chapter, whose focus is eliminating single use plastics, implementing progressive recycling practices, and working with youth, individuals, businesses and government to take positive action for our coastlines! Some of the work we are best known for is through our Love Your Beach Clean Program, and though this is only one part of a whole in what we do, it is essential to the rest of our efforts. Through our clean ups, we gain data that informs the rest of our programs and campaigns.
1) View From the Top
Two summers ago on Vargas Island, we left a clean up at Medallion beach back to our basecamp with a big exhale; we had collected ten one ton super sacs worth of marine debris, and we still needed to return to do more. As one volunteer remarked, it was though a plastic bomb went off, and our spirits were hanging low from this heavy experience. We headed back to our temporary home near sunset, and when we arrived at our rock drop on the outskirt of Cow Bay, and fellow volunteer, Colleen, who had been on another team came running down the rocks. A pilot from Victoria had landed his seaplane on Cow Bay to stay for the night, and had asked her to go on a scenic flight around Clayoquot and Nootka Sound. Fortunately for me, she insisted that they wait for my return. So, just like that, I hopped off the boat, ran as fast as I could manage, and then we hopped onto the plane and slid into thin air.
We travelled north over Clayoquot to Nootka Sound and landed on Nootka Island, a place I had never stepped foot. We checked out a nearby waterfall and grabbed a couple of buoys, as they dotted the beach like giant confetti. With some laughs had, photos taken, and buoys in hand, we boarded the small craft back to Vargas. It was incredible to have my perspective shift so rapidly, from the minutiae scale with my fingers deep in the sand and soils collecting debris to the grand views of Vancouver Island’s rugged edge. Seeing the undeveloped shorelines, some of Canada’s remaining old growth rainforest, and the vast view of the sea from the plane felt particularly magical after doing such hard ground work. It was one of those moments where the beauty was hard to comprehend, you could only be with it, and rest a little easier with all of it in your heart.
2) Sea Level
On the plane back from Nootka Sound, we touched ground as the sun went down, with the wind whistling through our colourful tents, bringing them to life. After another fire cooked dinner, I sauntered over to the river to do our daily dishes with my mentor, Michelle. As we walked over to complete this less favourable ritual, Humpback Whales came into the Bay. This isn’t a rare occurrence as whales often come to feed in Cow Bay, but it felt special. I said, “they’re coming to say thanks for everything we’ve done.” My eyes welled up as it was another reminder of why we do the work we do. To protect the wonderful web of life, with the hopes of achieving clean water and healthy beaches on a global level, and to ensure that people all around the world can experience the magnificence of our planet now and long hereafter. We face many challenges, but author Robin Wall Kimmerer remarked, “even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy.” Our continued existence is enough evidence to keep trying, and thus we tread forward with gratitude and active hope.
3) The Tracks We Find at Dusk
This memory includes waking up to wolf tracks, seeing their footprints as the reminders of who the true stewards of the beach are. We are lucky in these times to coexist with these creatures, and to restore not only the beaches from plastic pollution, but also the forests. Due to the severity of our storms and high tides, a lot of debris gets pushed past the beach into the vegetative line. I’ll never forget finding a large plastic bottle, which looked like it could have been a container for bleach, pierced with jagged bite marks all the way around it. Unfortunately, much of the pollution we create is recognized as food by all levels of the terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The ongoing lesson here is our species’ singular decisions have dramatic impacts on the whole, on an entire system that deserves a whole lot better.
4) Nuu-chah-nulth Traditional Salmon Barbeques
Nuu-chah-nulth Traditional salmon barbeques are one of the most soulful beach meals you can ever have. It’s prepared by skewing wild salmon, and weaving it between thin bendable branches, which safely hold the flesh over the fire. One of our remote clean experts, Jason Sam, always takes time out of an already wild day to prepare this meal, both meditatively, and methodically. Food transcends being just a meal when you watch the unfolding process of its making, to see its transformation, and to witness this away from a sterilized kitchen and in the greater outdoors. This dinner is always a favourite amongst our team, not only is it plastic and waste free, it connects us back to the most integral food source on the coast. Salmon are a keystone species in the Pacific Northwest; they are known as the lifeblood of this region, and are one of many species threatened by plastic pollution in our surrounding waters.
5) What Fires Provoke
Fires can conjure many things, and for our remote expeditions, they create a space for storytelling, and a chance to come back to our roots by bringing the team together under the stars. On our last trip in August, we sat down for our final fire and made up tales about buc miis, which is Nuu-chah-nulth for sasquatch. We laughed until we couldn’t breathe and caught lucky glimpses of shooting stars. When our eyes became heavy we retired back to our tents, to sleep on the earth once more on our small crescent beach. This may not be the most unusual memory, but it’s these simple moments that tap into the extraordinary nature of our existence. It’s the simple acts that feel the most sublime in remote areas: making coffee, sitting down after a long days work, and hearing people giggle around the fire while you’re bundled in your tent with a good book. These moments when we are all tired, dirty, and delirious after a day of collecting debris is when it seems like we’ve shed enough layers to ask more questions, explore the origins of our environmental dilemmas, and discover our place in system change efforts.
At this time, we are called to all do something, something that will help turn around the world we’ve dramatically altered. What we try to show through all of our efforts, but comes across the clearest during remote expeditions, is that we can all positively shape the planet - and find avenues to do this in a way that fulfills us. In ways that quench our search for adventure. As I’ve found out through all of these unruly memories, is when you walk in the right direction for the healing of the earth, the universe will shower you in unexpected phenomena yet also help you see the beauty of everyday a little clearer.