Every year since 2014 the Tyee Club has sent divers down to the bottom of the estuary to clean up debris. This past February they removed around 200 tires and found a 40 foot sail boat buried in the silt at the bottom.
“Where that tire is laying on the bottom, grass and different types of stuff that should be growing on the bottom can’t grow,” said Floyd Ross, Tyee Club member and project coordinator. “Multiply that by dozens or hundreds, and when we remove that it has to make a difference. There will eventually be fresh growth that comes up on the bottom.”
In partnership with the Pacific Salmon Foundation, the Tyee Club is able to pay divers to do the dirty work as well as pay the dumping fees that come along with taking loads of garbage to the dump. They Tyee Club matches the money granted by the foundation and they send a report with photos after each clean-up endeavour.
Volunteers also work out of the water collecting and dumping what the divers bring up and doing clean-up on the shoreline.
So far the project has been focused on the east shore of the estuary where the Tyee Club docks and where wharves would have historically been. They have been down there three times, and are going a fourth time sometime this January/February and there is still huge amounts of debris.
“We are looking at years and years and years of work there, but we’ve got lots of time,” Ross said.
The club was alerted to the potential problem because of tires falling off of their own docks.
“We were quite diligent about getting a pike pole or something and pulling them back up,” Ross said. But they weren’t so sure that everyone else was, and there is a long history of wharves as well as industrial activity in the estuary.
In 2014 divers went down to transplant eelgrass in the area, and what they discovered was too horrifying to ignore.
“We don’t do it to get a hand clap or an ovation of any kind,” Ross said. “Now that we know about it, to do nothing is wrong.”
In order to avoid disturbing the salmon coming up or going down the river, the clean-up occurs in January or February and the weather is often horrible.
“There is a very small window of quiet time where we can go in and do this type of work,” Ross said. “Regardless of the weather and everything else at the end of the day it is very worthwhile and gratifying.”
Ross said there are no limits to what they find in the water. As well as what seems to be endless amounts of tires there are also many glass bottles, hundreds of feet of plastic piping and everything from butchers knives to cellphones.
Though the work could be ongoing, the club is limited by funds as well as diver availability. Earlier this year when the divers were below the surface they explored further down the shoreline and what they saw was unbelievable.
“It just goes to verify what we really knew, we’ve got a lot more work to do there,” Ross said.
As for the sailboat they found this past February, they haven’t figured out what to do about it yet as pulling it up is beyond their scope without access to heavy duty equipment.