Whenever John Roe sees an abandoned boat slowly sinking in a pristine harbour, he gets upset.
“Those boats are always full to the brim with garbage,” said Roe, leader of the Dead Boat Disposal Society.
The society formed to remove abandoned boats and marine debris from beaches, oceans and inlets around Vancouver Island.
“There is nothing we haven’t pulled out of these boats and off the beaches over the years. They are full of everything you could possibly imagine.”
During the last three years, the Dead Boat Disposal Society has hauled more than 60 boats out of the water. The bulk of them were in protected bays and inlets throughout the Capital Regional District, which spans from Sooke to the Gulf Islands. Another 35 boats are on the list.
The society is notified by the public about abandoned boats. It then conducts a survey to determine how long the boat has been there and whether it has been truly abandoned. Most of the boats Roe surveys have either sunk or smashed up on the beach and are slowly polluting the environment.
If the boat’s owner cannot be identified, the society must issue a 30-day notice and go through Transport Canada to make an application for removal – a process that can take up to 100 days. Once the boat is removed with a barge and crane, it is tested for contaminants, dismantled and sent to specific landfills.
According to Roe, the Canadian government has identified about 1,400 abandoned vessels along B.C.’s coast. Roe said he can add another 1,000 boats to that list.
“I can find four or five boats a day for the rest of my life,” said Roe, noting that in Ladysmith alone, there are about 60 sunken boats — some of them in water 180-feet deep.
“When you look at a single 25-foot fibreglass boat, the waste from that is equivalent to 480,000 straws being dumped into the ocean. We are making progress, but at the current rate it’s going to be 35 years before I get those 1,400 boats, and we’re seeing more showing up.”
The Province is currently exploring ways to prevent vessels from being abandoned in the first place and find recycling solutions to keep salvaged marine debris out of landfills. Sheila Malcolmson, MLA for Nanaimo and parliamentary secretary for environment, has been visiting coastal communities this summer to learn about innovative solutions that address abandoned vessels and marine debris.