As the popularity of marine adventures continues to grow, so does the impact of camping in coastal areas. The increased traffic has led to damaged vegetation, excess human waste, and disrupted cultural sites. The BC Marine Trails (BCMT) Code of Conduct addresses the problem with a set of sustainable guidelines that, when followed, aim to maintain remote overnight access along British Columbia's coast for everyone.
"We're all looking for those more extreme experiences," says Gina Gotch, BCMT Director. "The more remote, the better. The more pristine someone can leave their camp, the better for other people who then will get that feeling of really being out there."
The non-profit, volunteer-based BCMT identifies and maps marine access points and public recreation sites from Victoria to the edge of Alaska. Their dedication to environmental stewardship is what sparked the creation of the Code.
While Leave No Trace has become a set of dependable practices for backcountry enthusiasts, not all are directly transferable to a marine environment. "The problem for BC Marine Trails was in recognizing that, if formally adopted, certain Leave No Trace principles do more harm than good," says John Kimantas, author and Operations Assistant for BCMT.
An example of this discrepancy is using durable surfaces for camping to prevent erosion and destruction of vegetation in the backcountry. When it comes to the coast, this will point people towards rock bluffs. These bluffs host incredibly delicate ecosystems that are easily damaged.
Another is that marine campsites are often compact and experience far more erosion, so digging catholes to bury human waste (when composting toilets aren't available) is not advisable. Neither is spreading out to minimize the impact as it causes tramping of the plant life. Instead, campers should use the beach when appropriate for tidal disposal or pack their waste out.
"Leave no trace also goes into great detail about appropriate fires and creating rings with rocks," says John. "On the coast, moving rocks has a huge potential impact on First Nations heritage and culture. You could be destroying burial mounds, middens or ancient fish weirs [by moving rocks]."
The pocket version of the BC Marine Trail Code of Conduct:
Now that the Code is published - backed by 38 pages of supporting scientific research - BCMT is turning their attention to communication and awareness. "We are educating people on recognizing how best to protect the area and what to do. Our focus is on getting people more involved," says Gina
There are seven locations with Marine Code of Conduct signs, and the BCMT is working with regional, provincial, and national parks to extend their reach. They are also sharing the messaging out through various other channels, including padding groups and businesses, to reach the public.
The hope is that everyone will adopt these practices, but any number of coastal campers adhering to them will only have a positive impact. BCMT plans to review the guidelines annually to ensure they are still in line with their overall goal of sites remaining in as natural a state as possible.
"British Columbia is relatively unique in that the vast majority of its coast is undeveloped and in a near-natural state," says John. "We can't love the coast to death. The Code of Conduct is a way to avoid that. If coastal visitors follow the Code, they can be assured their use won't lead to cumulative degradation of the places we all love to visit. It's a small piece of the puzzle, but it's a start that can snowball. That's the hope."