Combing the Coast

If you’ve ever read a story about surfing on the Canadian coast, you’re pretty sure to have read a few boilerplate paragraphs about how pristine it is in this part of the world. How bears and wolves stroll past the tent sites on the shoreline, perhaps, or how the lineups are alive with seals and whales, or how the water is a pure psychedelic green and the mountains are a thick shag carpet of trees. [Heading out for a Friday evening surf on Flores Island. All photos: Malcolm Johnson]

We’re happy to welcome back Canadian writer and surfer, Malcolm Johnson, to The Cleanest Line. This time, Malcolm takes us on a journey to a pristine island in Clayoquot Sound and opens our eyes to the unbelievable reach of ocean pollution.

Those things are true enough – in the town I live in, you can cast off the rocks for dinner or walk into forests that haven’t changed since the Pleistocene. But those things are also a bit misleading, or at least only partly true. The British Columbia coast has managed to retain much of its beauty and biodiversity, but it’s not some sort of pre-industrial idyll that’s free from the pressures of the modern world. It’s all a matter of image, I guess – you’ll find plenty of text in the surf and travel magazines about our area’s natural attributes, but not a lot about fish-farm waste, or the spawning streams clogged with logging debris, or the fact that Tofino, which bases much of its economy on surfing and eco-tourism, pipes its sewage straight into the waters of Clayoquot Sound. The reality of it is that the coast here is as vulnerable as anywhere to the forces of environmental degradation – the Northern Gateway is one of the more worrisome examples, a controversial pipeline project that would increase tanker traffic and put the Great Bear Rainforest at risk.
No place is a place apart, and probably the clearest illustration of our connection to the world at large is the amount of trash that washes onto our shores. Hike along any one of the backcountry beaches, and you’ll find that you’re stepping over all sorts of garbage, most of it plastic, mixed in with the piles of driftwood and seaweed that mark the high-tide line. Most of the trash on the beaches here floats in from far away, carried by the currents, and seeing such a sparsely populated coastline strewn with garbage is a pretty strong indicator that our species is still treating the ocean as a giant garburator. As Kyle Thiermann notes in this video about single-use plastics, there is no away.

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Article by: Malcolm Johnson


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