Recently, I was lucky enough to join the Epic Exeo team and participate in a remote helicopter beach clean-up on Vancouver Islands West Coast. We boarded a helicopter in Port McNeil and made our way to meet the rest of the group at the closest road access to our beach. After picking up our gear and 20+ helicopter bags, we were off.

Through the rain, the coastline came into view and suddenly we were over the water. I felt like a kid going to Disney Land for the first time. Numerous C-shaped beaches etched with jagged rocks and pointed trees flew by as we made our way to what would be our beach. Our beach was a 300-metre section on the exposed North West coast of Vancouver Island, kept secret from the masses of adventure seekers by its lack of road access and the relentless surf that pounded its shores. The helicopter landed on the northwest end of the beach and within minutes we were alone.

It became immediately apparent why we were there. As opposed to the usual brown, green, and grey backdrop of the West Coast’s populated beaches, we saw shades of blue, orange, yellow, and white. Intermixed with the expected wood, rocks, and leaves we saw rope, Styrofoam, and plastic. The plastic took many forms: buoys, barrels, water bottles, baskets, and endless smaller shards in every colour imaginable. Awestruck at the bleak scene, we knew we had our work cut out for us.

Most of the garbage we recovered from this beach fell into two categories. Single-use plastic bottles and runaways from the fishing industry. Most of the bottles found were water bottles and other drink containers and the fishing gear consisted of floats, buoys, and rope.

In addition to the tons of garbage, we also had the wind, rain, and oscillating ocean tides to contend with. We made our camp at the highest point on the beach we could, as the land was composed of salal thickets and established animal trials, and set up as many tarps as we could (Tarps that later tried to sail away on many occasions as we were pelted with 30mm of rain).

After two days of cleaning the group indulged in a truly west coast thanksgiving topped off with pumpkin pie around the fire. In 24 hours we managed to collect 26 full helicopter bags and many more lines with buoys and larger items tied to them totaling 8,000lbs. This worked out to each of our 6 members hauling 55.55lbs of garbage an hour.



Weeks after this experience, I have had time to reflect on what it meant to me. Initially, I was consumed by eco-grief having observed firsthand the effects of our carelessness, but upon further reflection, my thoughts and feeling are best summed up by Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass. She says “Joanna Macy writes that until we can grieve for our planet we cannot love it—grieving is a sign of spiritual health. But it is not enough to weep for our lost landscapes; we have to put our hands in the earth to make ourselves whole again. Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair.”

This blog post was written by Michelle Zimmer, a passionate and dedicated Program Facilitator at Power To Be. Michelle is fascinated by the ocean and devotes herself both to preserving it, holding a double major in biology and environmental studies from the University of Victoria, as well as enjoying it, with certifications in sea kayaking, SUP board instruction, lifeguarding, and wilderness first aid.