Abandoned barge causes alarm

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An abandoned oyster float near Hawkins Island has gotten islanders’ attention, but determining who is to clean it up is proving to be difficult.

Salt Spring resident Michael Byers sounded the alarm on the structure, and first it two years ago. The barge is part of an old oyster farm and is sitting off the shore of Hawkins Island on the east side of Prevost Island. It is covered in plastic trays once used to harvest the oysters. Now the plastic trays are at risk of falling off the barge and into the ocean.

“That location is like a pristine oasis in the middle of the Southern Gulf Islands and it’s badly marred by this derelict oyster float,” said Byers. “Someone has to raise the alarm.”

Though all levels of government have an interest in cleaning up the waters, jurisdiction and cost often make the process difficult to negotiate. This particular vessel is located near one of the most protected islands in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. However, it is not in waters that are protected by the park, and does not fall under Parks Canada jurisdiction. Parks Canada has notified Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Province of B.C. about the barge and trays, according to an email.

“The barge is located literally 30 metres away from an island that is part of the reserve and is so protected that you’re not allowed to set foot on it,” Byers said.

Determining who should deal with the problem is often difficult and depends on the case. If the wreck is polluting the waters or in navigation channels its disposal is taken care of quickly, but if there is no direct threat to the environment or any risk to shipping it can take longer. The Canada Shipping Act defines pollutant as any substance that degrades the water quality or plant and animal life in the water. The language in the act is mainly concerned with oil and gas seeping into the water and does not specifically mention plastics.

The Islands Trust has created an inventory of abandoned boats and vessels and is working on applying for federal funding. The organization can not remove boats, but is working to coordinate with multiple agencies to clean up the waters around the Gulf Islands. The inventory was set up in the fall of 2017.

“It’s only provincial and federal governments who can actually do anything about it,” said Salt Spring trustee Peter Grove. “The plan is to keep them informed of what’s going on. The Trust has no powers to remove these hulks.”

People who want to report derelict vessels can do so at the Islands Trust website.

For more on this story, see the May 16, 2018 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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