Tires from sunken barges in Chemainus Bay have attracted a considerable number of crabs over the years and that’s not a good thing. (Photo by Kathleen Fenner)

Tire removal in Chemainus Bay crucial to crab species survival

Divers sound the alarm about crabs becoming trapped in tires from sunken barges

The dive community in Chemainus has a direct window to the damage and devastation that can occur from disrespecting our ocean environment and habitat.

Chemainus residents Kathleen Fenner and Gord Bell, along with retired marine biologist Doug Biffard of Duncan and others, know the local waters like the back of their hands. Some of their discoveries are alarming.

“We have a beautiful piece of ocean in our area that needs respect, not garbage dumped in it,” noted Fenner.

Related: Brilliant life under the sea near Chemainus

Back in 2017, the Courier published an article about diving on the sunken barges in Chemainus Bay in which Fenner was quoted as saying, “sadly, there is some old wood, pipe and four tires each about eight feet tall also in the area.”

She finally got the nerve about a year ago to inspect the insides of those tires more closely.

“It was worse than anticipated,” observed Fenner. “The tires trap crabs, indiscriminately killing them. The crabs crawl in and can’t get out so live crabs are crawling on deceased crabs for their final moments of life. It is such a waste of Red Rock, Dungeness and other crab species.

“I had no idea they were killing crabs. We can survive without crab in our diet but by allowing these tires to remain down we create havoc on the balance of nature.”

Fenner and Biffard got to work on submitting a report to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans this spring, requesting help to remove the tires. “We need a commercial diver to get these out,” Fenner indicated.

Their Chemainus Bay Marine Debris Project March 2020 was very thorough, citing the background of the four large barges and associated rigging that sank at the entrance to Chemainus Bay in 2012. The barges were brought in as part of the development of the Chemainus Quay and Marina, a project that eventually failed.

The structures attracted a variety of marine life and became a popular spot for diving in the ensuing years, with depths around the barges ranging from 10 to 20 metres.

The rigging associated with the barges included the four large tires of a heavy mobile equipment type, with an estimated weight of 400 kilograms each and dimensions of 1.5 metres in diameter and 0.7 metres wide. Two tires are stacked and the others are singles.

They laid out the details of how the tires attract and trap both Red Rock, the predominant species in the tires, and Dungeness crabs. Dead and decayed crabs in all stages from lively to moribund, recently dead and partially decomposed were observed.

That was an indication of how crabs are constantly attracted to the tires and then become trapped inside and perish.

The report provided a practical solution for commercial salvage and recycling.

Total budget is estimated at $13,000, including $10,000 for dive salvage and loading for transport and another $3,000 for trucking and recycling.

They were less than pleased with the response they received from DFO that offered little more than a summer student for a couple of hours. Undeterred, Fenner and Biffard had a meeting with North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring to see what he could do.

Siebring was supportive of the tire removal, Fenner indicated, but he told them North Cowichan does not have the funds to take on the project. But at Siebring’s request, North Cowichan’s Environmental Specialist Dave Preikshot has been working with them to motivate DFO to take action. As a scientist, Preikshot has an understanding about the problems these tires cause in the ocean besides the trapping and killing of crabs.

Attempts have been made to greatly reduce the costs associated with the project by getting Tire Stewardship BC, a non-profit society that manages B.C.’s tire recycling program, to take responsibility for the tire disposal. Volunteer boats could also be supplied so only a commercial diver would need to be paid.

But the executive director of Tire Stewardship BC advised they don’t deal with Off The Road tires. They require the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change to add them but it is not a priority.

Properly disposing of the tires is a huge challenge since there is no means for recycling them on the Island and they would have to be shipped elsewhere.

“It appears that the project of these tires’ removal and disposal will require the support of many if it is to be realized,” summed up Fenner.

“I am afraid if the public aren’t concerned, we’ll never get these tires out. We need approval to have them dumped on land and someone to pick them up and dispose of them properly. We are working with Tire Stewardship BC and others to have this accomplished.”

But it’s not without hope and some other promising options are in the works.

Environment

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Dying crabs are found on top of dead crabs on tires in Chemainus Bay. (Photo by Gord Bell)

Divers take a close look at Tire Four to inspect the number of trapped crabs on it. (Photo submitted)

A wolf eel pokes its head out from an area near the barge tires where it feasts on crabs. (Photo by Kathleen Fenner)

Locations of barges and tires in Chemainus Bay.

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