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Clean Harbours Iniative continues post-Fiona

Shawn Bath with some of the recovered debris. – Submitted photo

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter PORT AUX BASQUES — Since Hurricane Fiona tore through the Southwest coast, Clean Harbours Initiative (CHI) has been removing as much debris and ghost gear from local waters as possible. The first time the non-profit organization was in Port aux Basques, they had raised the funds themselves, and quickly got to work removing debris out of the harbour and cleaning up the shoreline. Over the first two weeks after the storm, they pulled more than 80,000 pounds of debris out of the water. They also found old nets and ghost gear that had been in the water for years and removed that too. With the help of a government grant, Clean Harbours Initiative came back to the Southwest Coast in February in a different capacity, focusing solely on ghost gear retrieval, fishing equipment and other materials that were abandoned, lost, or discarded, potentially harming marine life in the process. Shawn Bath, Founder, said they would return as long as the funding is available, to continue the work they started after the hurricane, and Clean Harbours Initiative is back in the region once again. On Sept. 14, Bath arrived in Port aux Basques, and his crew arrived a few days later on Sept. 19. Within 10 days, they removed over 10,000 pounds of debris. “Up to today (Sept. 29), it’s been Hurricane Fiona debris. We’ve been removing more. Last time around, we had funding from the government, so we had to get the ghost gear, but unfortunately, we didn’t get any funding from government this year, so we’ve been on our own doing whatever we wanted, pretty much,” said Bath. “And last year, we didn’t get to spend much time here in Port aux Basques, so this year we’re going to make up for that, and we’re going to concentrate here in Port aux Basques for the most of it and clean up all the Fiona debris.” Even though they plan to focus on Fiona debris, they will still remove anything they happen to find. “If we see ghost gear, ropes, nets, whatever, we will take it, but we can also take just regular debris, like compressors, generators, tools, whatever the case may be.” No one with Clean Harbours Initiative is being paid for the work they are doing. The entire operation is being paid for by donations, but the crew of volunteers do not receive a salary. “There’s some really amazing people out there and we’re getting a lot of support, but we just need more people to know who we are, what we’re doing and stuff like that. I think a lot of people don’t believe us when we say we’re volunteering, but we certainly are. I was talking to a gentleman this morning on the wharf here and he said, ‘You guys must be getting paid a lot for working over here.’ And I said ‘By, you wouldn’t believe me, but we’re not getting paid. We’re volunteering.’ Then he was telling me about the other guys there before us, what they accomplished while they were here and how much they were making per week or per day, which is quite a sum of money, but we’re not getting paid. We are here as volunteers.” Fundraising isn’t easy, but it is crucial because the amount they raise will determine how long they are able to stay to do this work. “If we can get gas and food money and donated to us, we’ll be here until Christmas and possibly all winter, depending on the number of donations we get, because basically that’s what we’re doing. We’re volunteering our time. And we’re just putting out on Facebook that we need donations of gas. We need donations to cover the gas, plus food, whatever else we run into. If we can keep enough donations coming to pay for our expenses, then basically we’ll stay here as long as possible,” said Bath. “For the first six or seven days we were here, we had a dry spell. We didn’t get anything coming in. Everybody was starting to panic and thought we had made a major mistake by coming here because we actually fundraised for gas to get over. We had 43 jerry cans of gas donated to us to get over, but in the last couple of days, since I put up a little video on Facebook, we’ve had a lot of people donating money for gas, for food, so it’s starting to pick up now, which is a really good feeling of course.” Clean Harbours Initiative also has a paid job that brought them to the West coast, and that will pay them for about a week of work before they return to volunteering. “It’s been going really smoothly. We’re all experienced at this. We know everybody has got their job and everybody knows what to do, and we do it fairly safely, so it’s been going really good. Like I said, the only hiccup we had now was the stress of not having gas to go out and not having gas for your vehicles. After three or four days here, we had no gas in either one of the vehicles, and we were almost out of our gas, so that was stressful, but that’s beyond us, so hopefully smooth sailing,” said Bath. “Just imagine packing up everything you own, towing four or five boats and trailers and everything else across the island. It’s a nine-hour drive from where we’re living, so when we decided to come over this year — because we knew from last year there’s a lot of debris that never got cleaned up because we couldn’t — we wanted to come back and get that cleaned up, so none of us had any money. The guys are just regular guys drawing EI (employment insurance) and because I own the company, I don’t even get to collect the EI, so March month is the last time I’ve had an actual paycheque.” They’ve found different kinds of debris since they began their work a few weeks ago. “The Fiona-related debris has been anything from chainsaws, compressors, generators, household appliances, pretty much everything you think about that is in people’s houses, microwaves, stoves, fridges. We’ve got several fridges now. We’ve got several microwaves. We got a wood stove today, and there’s another one there for tomorrow when we go back,” said Bath. “So pretty much anything that was in people’s houses, we’re cleaning it up now. We’ve been concentrating in the Channel so far, but now fishermen are telling us there’s lots of stuff up around Mouse Island and different places that we need to go.” While they plan to focus mainly in Port aux Basques, if they are needed somewhere else, they will go. The town is also paying for CHI’s tipping fees to dispose of the debris. “There’s no point of us dragging somewhere where there’s no nets or no debris or whatever. We listen to the fishermen or the people in the community because they know where the debris was lost to, and we just go wherever they tell us,” said Bath. “We’re averaging probably 1,500 pounds a day or something. I think we got like 10,000 pounds of trash picked up so far. Some of that’s Fiona debris and some of it is old ropes and nets. It’s basically what have we come across now. We couldn’t take the Fiona debris before because we were getting paid to remove ghost gear, but now, when we go out on an average day and I get in the water and I swim around, I find the debris that we want to recover. Sometimes I dive down on it and sometimes I just hook it from the surface with the grapple we have made up.” To donate to Clean Harbours Initiative, send an e-transfer to: or their GoFundMe page, Help CHI, STOP ghost nets from drowning whales!

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