Sunken boats, stereos, and household appliances removed from Degnen Bay

Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Sounder News

Tuesday, May 29 2018

Degnen Bay is now clear of two dumpsters full of debris. SeaChange Marine Conservation Society led an eight-day cleanup of Degnen Bay last week that involved three divers and a 26-foot crane boat and saw the removal of everything from long-submerged boats to home stereo systems and coffee pots.

Sarah Verstegen, operations manager for SeaChange, said the team even removed 10 feet of four-inch wide PVC pipe that had the attachment piece for a sink still in tact. “It looked like it had come out of someone’s home rather than someone’s boat.”

They also found the plastic shell of a dingy, but the wooden frame had disintegrated, indicating the boat had been sitting in the bay for a long time. With help from the Lion’s Club, all the material was brought to the landfill because it can no longer be recycled after being submerged, Verstegen said. 

SeaChange has funding from Department of Fisheries and Oceans Coastal Restoration Fund to lead debris removal and shoreline riparian area rehabilitation in the Southern Gulf Islands, Sechelt, Howe Sound and Burrard Inlet, including in eelgrass beds, which, in Degnen Bay have been damaged by sunken boats as well as items tossed overboard. Native eelgrass beds provide habitat for forage fish, spawning grounds for herring and also sequester carbon dioxide (known as “blue carbon”).

The cleanup has focused specifically below the zero tide line and extends about 10 feet below.

Laura-Jean Verstegen is with Gabriola Shorekeepers, a group on the island working on mapping eelgrass, forage fish and kelp zones. Along with Isobel Pearsall, who is with Shorekeepers and Pacific Salmon Foundation, the groups connected with SeaChange to clean up Degnen Bay.

While the work done in May isn’t a full ecosystem restoration, it’s the start of what Kelly hopes will lead to educating people about respectful enjoyment of Degnen Bay. 

“[The bay] is really well loved, but to its detriment,” she said. “Part of it is to raise awareness around the different ecosystems there and how they can be protected, but also how we can still use Degen Bay for our recreational enjoyment without damaging it.”

Post-cleanup, Gabriola Shorekeepers plans to post signs near the federal dock that explain safe ways to anchor a boat.

“We can’t make people do stuff but we can let people know, and we’re doing citizen science at the same time as doing public awareness to know how the nearshore is doing.”

Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Sheila Malcolmson, a long-time advocate for action on derelict vessels, said via email that the burden of removing these vessels should be on the federal government. “Coastal communities have carried the load of abandoned vessels for too long when the federal government should have been taking the lead on this long-standing coastal pollution problem.” She quoted Islands Trust Council Chair Peter Luckham who noted in February the dangers of having private citizens deal with hazardous materials associated with cleanup, and that since 2014, Bowen Island has allocated 400 hours of staff time and $75,000 to remove four metric tonnes of debris from boats, wrecks and mooring buoys.