I love when travel works its way into your everyday life. For me one of those distinctive times was when my volunteer work with the Surfrider Foundation lead me to being sent to Ucluelet/Tofino to hike into a remote beach to clean up debris from a cargo ship spill.
Protecting the environment has become something that is deeply important to my heart. In these last few years the extent of my knowledge and personal growth for making changes to my daily life to help reduce my impact has been huge. Realizing the deep impact travel can have on the environment I have since altered the way I travel to be more eco-friendly.
(If you want to learn more on how to reduce your impact feel free to join my free Facebook group for Women to network and talk about how to reduce our impacts)
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The trip started off with an early 5:30 am start. Anyone who knows me well knows I don’t do early mornings unless it involves travel or adventure. My alarm went off and I woke up to darkness. As I walked along the sleeping city streets of Vancouver I smiled at the familiar sound of suitcase wheels rolling along the pavement.
It had been too long since hearing that lovely sound and knowing I was headed toward something new. I realized it was a sound so closely related with joy that I had missed dearly. Walking past the few commuters and street cleaners I remembered what it was like to see a city before it was awake.
The trip itself was out of my comfort zone. Being an avid and almost exclusively solo traveller I knew I would be pushed on this trip. Despite that I was excited for the adventures to come and relinquished control. I was looking forward to returning to such a beautiful area of British Columbia.
After a typical Pacific Northwest rainy and overcast drive through the mountains we came to settle in a wood cabin which backed onto a marsh area. Hammocks laid tucked away in the trees and an overgrown trail led to little hide aways for bonfires and a spot to sit with candles that was overrun with wax accumulated, I am sure, from many memories.
I explored the area while I could before the familiar coastal downpour of rain descended. I retired into the common area, relaxing into a seat to drink tea while admiring the lush greens through the water covered window. Eventually the rain cleared and the sun peaked out from the clouds just in time for an outdoor movie night hosted by the local area’s Surfrider Chapter.
The night’s events were held at the local botanical gardens which gave way to some post dinner beauty. We settled into our chairs bundled under heaters, holding warm drinks. There were many short films all filled with love and devotion to the ocean from all over the world (as well as some made by locals). It was a contrast of love and loss for our natural world.
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We met early the next morning to set off on our cleaning expedition. 13 volunteers (including me) headed off down back service roads to a location we were asked to keep secret. We hiked down paths and through bushes and down to the rocky rugged Pacific Rim coast and broke off into different sections to tackle as much debris as possible.
We balanced over the rocks as we headed to where we would clean. We watched the time knowing the path we had just crossed would be swallowed by the rising tide if we didn’t return in time. As we rounded the corner to our designated section of beach we were greeted by a cargo container on the shores torn apart. Styrofoam littered the beach reaching up into the forest line where the tide had pushed it.
We all broke off individually to different areas of the beach and started filling garbage bags. I worked along the side of the beach against a rock face and then into the forest area where the water line ended. I discovered a trove of plastic bottles and styrofoam debris. Eventually moving further down the beach knowing that any log you moved would reveal more.
This wreck was one they had been working to clean for quite awhile. It was a big undertaking that required a lot of effort and by far wasn’t the only remote beach or area littered with debris along the coast. We were told stories of different things they would find from their many clean ups through the years, including wreckage from the tsunami that happened in Japan 8 years earlier.
The 13 of us ended up filling 7 tonnes worth of debris into super sacs. Everyone worked together to manoeuvre what we had found into each sac. Once we had fit all of the debris into the bags we roped them all together to be picked up by helicopter and dropped to the proper sorting facility.
It was a successful clean up done by a lot of hard working individuals. Despite the continued hard work of the locals and our additional help for this clean up the area was still filled with micro plastic of the broken styrofoam that would require more cleaning in the future.
(If you want to learn more of the dangers of plastic and especially micro plastic to the ocean and animals watch the documentary A Plastic Ocean)
After our hard work we all enjoyed a lunch together at a local favourite: Ukee Dogs. We ended our combined time and headed back to our accommodations to relax before our next adventures.
A failed hiking plan lead to us accompanying one of our group members as she went to go surfing before the sunset. The wicked waves splashed onto shore and against the ragged coastline rocks while surfers and kite surfers alike took advantage of the swell.
I myself opted to explore the shores and take photographs. I wandered along the coast line and noticed a light house in the distance. My wonder for light houses and the low tide lead me to a rock island. A few secluded homes laid atop the rocks and I explored it’s surface to catch a better glimpse of what may lay beyond.
As I headed back toward my group a rainbow was laying over the beach and view of the landmass in front of me. By the time I returned to where we had left our gear the setting sun gave some stunning photographic opportunities. Our friend returned from her work out on the waves and we watched as the last light of the day coloured the sky with subtle pastel purples.
We briefly sat for hot chocolate and popcorn at the beachside home of the local chapter’s leader discussing what we all did beyond our volunteer work. As our visit ended we thought that our night was at an end as well until we received a message from fellow Surfriders we had met earlier. We were invited to one of the many beaches for a bonfire. Luckily because we are all outdoors lovers we had our packs and our headlamps ready to walk down the dark trail to the beach.
We followed the distant light of the fire and found familiar faces. Our eyes eventually adjusted to the dark and we stayed warm with the burning fire. The night was spent chatting and laughing. But being the artist I am I was more mesmerized by the stunning night sky, the sound of the crashing waves, and the rotating light from the light house in the distance.
I spent more time taking photographs than I did interacting. As I continued to take night shots (using the logs as my makeshift tripod) others from the group became curious to see my creations. I had asked a friend to help me so I could light paint and it ended up being a hilarious party trick I never knew I had. Once the others realized the end result of someone running around with a flashlight everyone wanted a chance to try.
We laughed hysterically as we yelled letters out and guided the painters to get the picture right. After a lot of tries I finally got the perfect shot I wanted showing the lights of the city in the distance and the city name painted above the beach. We left the beach that night having had great conversations and having gained some new local friends.
I woke up early the next morning knowing I didn’t have much time to enjoy the beauty of the area since I was on someone else’s schedule. I decided to head out again to the marsh area behind our accommodations and was greeted with the beautiful natural world already underway.
Steam rose from the ground as the frost was thawed by the rising sun. Birds chirped and flew over head while a heron stood on the waters edge looking for food. I followed the almost non-existent stream toward the open water and admired the sleeping boats and their mirror images. I felt so much joy experiencing the natural beauty and grabbing some beautiful shots.
While we didn’t do much extra exploring we did make one stop on our way to the ferry and that was to an amazing area that still holds some of the oldest trees in British Columbia. Some of these big beauties are bigger than the tower of Pisa and over 800 years old. It is one of the few areas with giant trees that thankfully remain untouched from the logging industry.
It was my second time there and I was glad to be able to appreciate the magnificence of these huge beauties again. It is so humbling feeling so small compared to their size and history. It’s a place despite being packed with tourists still feels relaxing and a place I was happy to return to.
We caught a later ferry and while some of the girls relaxed and tried to nap I was too captivated by the setting sun. I ran all over the upper deck of the ship to capture the lands edge and the colours painting the sky. While I am often afraid of boats I find most of my journeys on them are the most memorable and packed full of stunning photo opportunities.
I returned home with some amazing photographs, having made some new connections, and having learned a lot more than what I had known before. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to gain the experience of participating in a remote beach clean up. It definitely won’t be my last.
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To see more you can watch a video created from our journey from a fellow Surfrider and content creator Crystal Chan:
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I have absolutely loved the volunteer work I have done and through doing so I have gained great value in my life. My knowledge has grown so much, I’ve met like-minded people, I’ve gotten to be connected with more organizations I love, and have grown my resume significantly. I truly recommend volunteering within areas you’re passionate in.