Archive for category Expeditions

Spring in the Rainforest

Spring in the Rainforest – By April Bencze

June 2014

It is difficult to understand a place you have never been before. Pacific Wild introduced me to the ecosystems thriving in the Great Bear Rainforest on British Columbia’s wild coast long before I came here. They have unveiled the behaviours and interactions of wildlife using non-invasive, high-quality camera systems streaming live from remote locations, bringing you a piece of the Rainforest, wherever you may be in the world. Before I ever set foot here, Pacific Wild brought me face to face with wolves, bears and marine life with still images that captivated, inspired and introduced me to the many faces of this place.

I first met the wolves of this coast through Ian McAllister’s photography and conservation efforts. Then I met the bears, followed by the inhabitants of the underwater world. Ian’s images and those from the remote cameras brought me into the heart of a place I had never been, uncovering the lives of creatures I would not have known existed, like the spirit bear. I felt connected and driven to protect the Great Bear Rainforest, and all those who call it home. As a diver and wildlife photographer, I knew my future would be tied to British Columbia’s central coast, due to the strength with which it affected me. So here I am, at Pacific Wild headquarters operating the remote cameras from the Float Lab.

I was born and raised in Campbell River, on the east coast of Vancouver Island in Southern British Columbia. I spent a year scuba diving in Australia and Indonesia, before returning to my home waters to dive my days away. Photography slipped itself into my life through an urge to share the underwater world with the people around me. It quickly became much more and I find myself in the pursuit of a life dedicated to conservation of the natural world through photography. There is a responsibility to the subject after the shutter is pressed and an image is created. It is an obligation to share their story, and unfortunately many of the lives I am photographing are threatened.

This is what brings me to the Great Bear Rainforest, to do what I can to help protect the wildlife from the many threats they are facing. Pacific Wild has been an inspiration and I am thrilled to be volunteering my time to aid in their conservation efforts. Three weeks ago, I loaded up my touring bicycle with my camping equipment, camera gear and a cooler of food. Six days of riding from Campbell River brought me to Port Hardy, where I jumped on a short flight to Bella Bella.

I am blown away by the diverse habitats and life seen in my short time exploring this coast. I have traveled to many corners of the world, yet nothing can compare to the natural beauty I have witnessed in my time here. After the past few weeks of listening to whale song on the hydrophones and observing the wildlife in the Great Bear Rainforest, I am beginning to understand just how devastating supertankers in these waters would be. It would be destructive for the people, the land, the wild and marine life of the most untouched place I have ever seen. I’m incredibly thankful to the First Nations people and conservation groups who are working, and will continue to work, tirelessly to stand up for our coast.

Yesterday, Ian and I left Pacific Wild headquarters to do some camera maintenance. We headed out by boat during calm seas. As we passed numerous small, rocky islands, it was apparent that it was June in the Great Bear Rainforest. Harbour seals with newborn pups dotted the shorelines, sea otters bobbed in the kelp, and Oystercatchers trilled from their nests. New life was buzzing all around us as we cleaned the camera housings and completed some electrical maintenance.

The remote camera systems are proving to be a powerful tool in telling the story of this coast. Right now, one of the cameras is trained on a Steller sea lion rookery on the outer coast. It is capturing the birthing and nursing of this year’s pups on the live feed and distributing it to the world. I am in awe recording the intimate daily behaviors of the sea lions, in a way I have never been able to when out photographing them in the field. Please watch a compilation of sea lion and bird footage I pieced together in the weeks I have been here. The stories of the numerous species of wildlife continue to unfold before my eyes with these cameras. I hope you are watching the live cameras and meeting the local wildlife who call this coast home as well!

April

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Help support our Digital Technitian Geoff Campbell and his friend Mikhayla’s “Ride for the Wild” Indiegogo campaign. Geoff and Mikhayla are undertaking a A2,500km bike expedition down the Pacific Coast to raise money to fight pipeline development & increased tanker traffic in British Columbia.

 

 

 

 

 

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Great Bear Sea Winter Dive Expedition: Part III

It’s not normally recommended to expose yourself so entirely; out here storms from the southeast can churn up the seas before you can say ‘purple ringed top snail’.  Bobbing over the remnant swells from the last blow, we look back at the mainland before it blurs into a darkened silhouette of peaks and valleys that make up the coast mountain range.  With anchor secured, we are visited by a gang of Steller sea lions, a family of river otters and the bulbous heads and watchful eyes of harbour seals in every quiet cove.

As the western sun dips below the horizon, leaving its imprint of amber and crimson light, we soak in the panorama atop a rock nearby our lonely anchorage.  We hear the squeals of a sea otter pup before it comes into view, riding on its mother’s furry stomach.   A curiously placed snowy owl lands on an islet nearby as we savor the experiences of another wonderfully rich and diverse day.

Extra preparation was required for today: extra paddles, air tanks, VHF radios and a sat phone, in addition to a pre-departure agreement on emergency hand signals.  Rising up the steep swells in our trusty dinghy, the three of us hunkered down as white foam whipped across us.  I was jealous of Ian and Tav’s dry suits.  After thirty dives this past week, the divers have fallen into a familiar rhythm, and as they drop to the bottom I could see the waves of mysids flowing over them.   Later they would tell me that these tiny shrimp were so thick that they blocked out the sun.

In mixed seas like this it was hopeless to keep track of their bubbles, so I relied on the strobe from Ian’s flash to monitor their positions.  So much shrimp biomass ensured the surface lens was covered in sea birds and plenty of fish below.

The third dive of the day was chosen up a quiet pass, protected from the ocean swell but with lots of tidal current pushing late season bull kelp forests.  I could see dozens of harbour seals swimming below in the crystal clear water weaving back and forth as they curiously watched on.

Tuning into the weather channel brings news of storm conditions descending on our rocky perch, so we make a late departure for the safety of the mainland; now instead of big swells and surfing pescavores the tannin waters of the mainland bring brilliant orange sea pens, fields of nudibranchs and a travelling group of transient orcas.  After breakfast, Ian admits he’s behind on some paperwork (some excuse about due dates for a book) and sits out the morning’s dive, so Tav had the pleasure of yours truly filling in as his dive partner – what a wonderful treat to see it first hand!

The days have gone too quickly and we have only explored a tiny fragment of the Great Bear Sea, but bearing witness to this rarely-observed world has been a gift.  It’s not just the magnificent combination of flora, fauna and geology that faces such an uncertain future, it’s also the human communities that rely on the health of these systems. The continuing fight against oil tankers is found in the unity of all nations, in the unprecedented alliance of the walkers and swimmers, of the slimy and spiny.  And perhaps if you experience a moment of despair for this coast, know that there are thousands and millions of creatures still blowing bubbles for the Great Bear Sea!

Thanks for reading!

Ian, Tavish and Ashley

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Great Bear Sea Winter Dive Expedition: Part II

Ashley Stocks is on a Pacific Wild diving expedition through the Great Bear Sea and will be uploading a three part blog series with new images and footage.

 

A twice daily flushing and filling of lagoons creates the dynamic environment that supports diversity, strengthening the fabric of the natural world here and the main ingredient that Ian and Tavish are searching for – strong tidal current!  We anchored up shortly before dark and Tavish was eager to get in the water.  Ian fielded media calls from the Habitat while I cooked up some dinner; back at Pacific Wild headquarters, international media are reporting on the amazing fishing wolf coverage their remote cameras are getting.  Tav emerged with stories of an overly curious octopus – apparently he’s a sucker for a good close up.

There’s a special time when ebb turns to flood and the only indication of current is the twisted up bull kelp laying battered on the surface.  This time of year you’re lucky if you have two slack tides in daylight, but we missed it.  Our first dive was about 0900, two hours before low slack, so Ian and Tav ducked into eddies out of the 12 knots of white water that was pouring out of the lagoon.  I tied the tender to an overhanging tree, finding solace in the low boughs like the belted kingfishers.  Peering over the side of the dinghy I got a taste of the beauty below, I could see green surf and plumose anemones and a few schooling striped sea perch, anticipating what Ian and Tav had captured in this challenging environment.

The following day, low slack was timed well; midday it was supposed to turn.  With enough time for a morning dive to get the kinks worked out, I drop the divers on the edge of the raging current.  It was a stunner of a morning: clear sky, great blue herons fishing the shore, cormorants and grebes pursuing the swift water, and a sea lion, investigative of the dual streams of bubbles rising up from below.

Back on Habitat, the crew busily set up for our window of stillness, lights were charged and air tanks were filled.  Ian and Tav donned their suits in giddy anticipation of such ideal conditions – slack tide, excellent visibility, no wind, a reliable tender to fetch them, and sunshine!

We arrived on scene with water still draining from the lagoon. With each diver set up in his chosen spot, I fastened the boat to a few stipes of kelp.  Above the water, everything went quiet and the stillness was enchanting.  It took only a minute for my kelp hitching post to go slack and slowly bow in the opposite direction, indicating the flood was on the way. Below the water, all types of fish came up from their bunkers and swam about freely, enjoying the brief relief from their windy existence.

Our time was spent well in the protection of these tidal lagoons and the divers’ spectacular images and footage will surely become part of the conservation agenda in the coming months, but for now it’s time to move on. The tender is hauled out and lashed in its cradle, air tanks are tied down, and the galley’s contents are stowed securely away as we work our way to the wave-beaten outer coast.

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Great Bear Sea Winter Dive Expedition: Part I

Ashley Stocks is on a Pacific Wild diving expedition through the Great Bear Sea and will be uploading a three part blog series with new images and footage.

A quick remedy of tape around the neck cuff of Ian’s loaned oversized drysuit made the seal watertight against the numbing North Pacific. Equipped with lead weights, air tank, and gauges dragging along the bottom of our dinghy, I eagerly tied the bow line to the bough of a fallen cedar. In my bold reach and instability, I fell right out of the boat onto the rocks. My mask could not find a seal against my face and my feet had slipped out of the suit feet, leaving my flippers limply clinging to empty rubber. But eventually I descended, all sounds fell away into silence and I entered another world… through my blurry mask were thousands of hooded nudibranchs clinging to giant kelp, waiting for zooplankton to enter their fleshy nets.  Only moments ago, a group of mammal-eating orcas, celebrating a recent meal, glided under the twin hulls of our sailing vessel, slapping tail flukes and showing their white bellies as they vanished into the misty distance.

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It’s always exciting when seasons change on the coast, deciduous trees drop their leaves, the air cools and adopts the comforting scent of fir fire smoke, and humpback whales start their southbound migration. But perhaps most noticeably, salmon carcasses remain in rivers as essential nutrients, while fertilized eggs are left to over-winter in their frigid watery baths – the promise of a future for all species. Most of the larger predators have moved out of the valley bottoms and onto winter living, fat with salmon omegas, onto a life of minimal daylight and ruthless coastal storms. But today the coast is cold and quiet as we get ready to cast off on this underwater exploration.

There are always a few things to work through on the days leading up to a trip and this time our sailing vessel Habitat required minimal attention before charging into heavy seas and gleaming bays. More dire pre-departure agendas, at least for the Denny Island kids, were the Sunday soccer game and helping neighbours move engine blocks up a flight of stairs.

Through these dive surveys, Tavish and Ian hope to document in video and still imagery, the delicate workings of the seascape that are so rarely seen and reported. The aim is to collect unique observations, accounts, and behaviours of submarine creatures during a season that is largely unvisited along this highly threatened coastline.

I am closing in on my fifth year crewing on boats on the coast of B.C. now, and on this expedition, I’ve been tasked with keeping track of things on the surface: looking after the tender, crew nutrition, and watching the diver’s exhalations – boils and bubbles indicating their positions below.

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Launching our first dive at King Island, we get into the routine and testing of equipment. From my vantage point, I spot a belted kingfisher perched low over the water darting about and following Ian’s bubbles while Tavish brings up his first footage from depth, a psychedelic box crab, cruising the ocean bottom.

We continue south to Namu; a once thriving and bustling cannery (B.C. Packers) is now abandoned and vacant of a responsible land-owner. Perhaps a fault of the economy, or bad parenting, there is lacking desire to clean up the mess after boom and bust, and now Namu crumbles iconically leaching harmful waste into the mouth of a salmon bearing stream. The concern here is not the retroaction of the parties responsible, it is the adequacy in coping with modern messes, say, a V.L.C.C. gushing out barrels of bitumen into critical fin whale habitat and river estuaries.

A few miles down Fitz Hugh Sound, we set the hook at the mouth of the Koeye River. The clarity of the water here shows the divers’ bubbles climbing emerald green through the water column. I find comfort knowing they’re snapping away while I bravely keep guard, paddling around in the tender left to my thoughts –

An adventure but surely with a purpose – an expose of sub-tidal Great Bear Sea! Perhaps we do this for our children who will strive to make a life on this coast, or for the folks in Washington, D.C. who listen to the live feed of the audio from Pacific Wild’s remote cameras so they too can enjoy howling wolves from their office chairs. Or it’s because salmon swim every inch of the coastline feeding all nations – the towering spruce of valley bottoms and scarlet anemones.

* * * *

Casting my gaze towards Hakai Pass, a few remaining humpback whale spouts are spotted against the darkened shore, and a quick snorkel trip up the river reveals two juvenile grizzlies, searching for the last of the pinks in a late pulse up their natal stream.

Out here, the most influential agent of landscape change is fluids. Water carving and dissolving, wind throwing up great stands of forest and soil, and ice sculpting peaks and fjords, defining the geography of this coastline. The great mass of ice, 10,000 years ago, causing areas to bulge up, while others only miles away, were pushed deep into the ocean resulting in a staggering variability of sea level. You could imagine then, there might be a place where the land wasn’t depressed nor bulged (like that of the fulcrum of a teeter-totter), a unique attribute of the coast where sea level has been relatively constant.

Knowing this might change the way you look at the landscape. Ecological communities could be much older than once perceived and perhaps a more refined use of the coastal zone, would be common among all species that have resided here since the last glacial maximum. Perhaps Ian and Tavish are documenting ancient adaptations of the creatures here, in their quest for survival in the Great Bear Sea.

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Brig.-Gen. M.G. Zalinski – Cleaning up Oil or Image

Zalinski – Cleaning up Oil or Image

Last winter I found myself descending slowly down a black wall, my dive partner Tavish Campbell, somewhere off to my left is only recognized by the narrow beam of his dive light.    The depth gauge registered 100 feet so I figured I must have missed the shipwreck.  I kicked off into the water column and suddenly found myself face to face with a towering wall of steel; long lines of rivets disappeared into the dark.

I was staring at the shipwreck of the the 250 foot-long USAT Brigadier General M. G. Zalinski, a U.S. army transport ship that sank in the Grenville channel north of Hartley Bay in 1946.

Just on the other side of the steel hull it is reported that 12- 500 pound aerial bombs and countless smaller munitions lay undisturbed.    Surprisingly, late on that wet and windy night so many years ago the ship rolled down the steep wall and landed on a very narrow ledge.  By all accounts it should have kept rolling to the bottom, another 250 feet.

Fast forward to today, and the Zalinski is back in the news with the Canadian Coast Guard planning to remove the 600 or so tonnes of bunker oil (unclear if they plan on removing the bombs) that lay entombed inside.

The media is reporting that this will help bolster the government’s claim that the Canadian Coast Guard’s oil spill response capability is “world class” and can handily deal with ever-increasing LNG and bitumen tanker proposals facing the Great Bear Rainforest.

But I don’t follow.

First off, the Coast Guard had 70 years to figure out how to clean up the Zalinski wreck, yet suddenly they are spending a reported $50 million (and probably substantially more) during the winter storm season?   The cleanup of the Zalinski is conveniently timed to coincide with the December decision by the National Energy Board on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker proposal.

The other issue that raises eyebrows is Canada’s choice of hiring the Dutch company Mammoet to do the cleanup.  This seems to tell us more about Dutch capabilities than our own.

And what does the Zalinski have to do with modern Canadian oil spill clean up capabilities?   The ship is sitting in one hundred feet of water in the relatively calm and protected waters of Grenville Channel.  These are dream maritime conditions for an oil spill clean up by any standards on this coast.   If the ship had kept rolling on that late night so many years ago, more than likely the Coast Guard would have continued to ignore the problem similar to its ongoing response to the Queen of the North wreck.

The Grenville Channel does get strong current but it cannot be compared to the treacherous waters that the 1500 foot long, 2 million barrel capacity VLCC tankers that are proposed to ply our coast, just a few miles to the south, would have to face each day.

The best thing that this $50 million dollar cleanup will achieve is something that should have been done years ago and at the expense of the U.S. government (it was their ship that sank after all) yet somehow Canadians are supposed to feel comforted by our Coast Guard’s ability to conduct serious oil spill response and cleanup?  And that’s assuming they actually succeed in sucking the oil out of this wreck.

While the Canadian Coast Guard and their Dutch-for-hire spill recovery company fiddles around with the Zalinski, the real and more pressing issue of oil spill response capabilities continues to build with the onset of winter weather and the looming decision by the National Energy Board.

The waters just to the south of Grenville Channel have been listed by Environment Canada as the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world with recorded waves close to 100 feet in height.  This is where a major shipping disaster would most likely take place.  It is here that Canada will have to prove its ability to respond to an Exxon Valdez size –or much greater- oil spill disaster.

Not in the quiet waters of Grenville channel – 70 years late.

Ian McAllister is the Executive Director of Pacific Wild, a BC-based wildlife conservation organization. 

ian@pacificwild.org

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Setting Up the Herring Cam

By Claire Hume, Pacific Wild Intern

Photo by Max Bakken

Photo by Max Bakken

En route to set up the remote camera for the herring spawn, I quickly forgot about my cold fingers and toes when Max spotted a dolphin porpoising nearby. I struggled to count the fins as they briefly broke the surface. “Seven!” I shouted, there were at least seven. Starting my count again I adjusted that estimate to twenty-five. Then fifty. And, upon realizing the pod of dolphins had us surrounded, my excitement reached an all time manic high and I abandoned the count altogether. Max, who had remained calm and collected, later informed me there were at least a hundred and fifty white-sided dolphins in the group, probably more.

As the dolphins cut gracefully through our waves, there was one who was much smaller than all the rest, who flung himself clear out of the water in a spectacular jump. I could practically hear him saying “weeeeeeeee!” as he flew through the air. Eventually the dolphins headed on their way, off to search for herring I suppose, and we carried on ours – off to install a camera that would monitor the behaviour of animals feeding on the herring spawn.

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Photo by Max Bakken

After scouting for the perfect camera spot on various beaches and points, we found one that we thought might work. The criteria, though simple, were proving quite difficult to fulfill. The camera needed to be mounted in a stable location, such as up a tree, that gave an unobstructed view of the beach and intertidal zone while receiving transmission signal that would allow us to send the video back to Pacific Wild headquarters via our mountaintop relay site. Max clambered up countless trees, reporting spectacular views from each, but none of them were receiving strong enough signals from our radio tower to justify its use.

Eventually we found a spot that seemed to work and Max and Diana unloaded the boat – a feat in itself as we were anchored on a patch of steep and seaweed-covered rocks. The rest of the afternoon was spent installing the camera and wiring it to send its footage in the right direction. We’re hoping the camera will allow us to watch wolves, bears, whales, and birds as they feast on herring and their eggs. We are streaming this footage live into the local school to help give youth a view into their surrounding environment. If all goes well, everyone will be able to watch the herring spawn excitement from miles away! For now, it’s a waiting game to see if the herring will decide to spawn in this location – which was teeming with life last year – again this season.

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Speaking from the heart: an Enbridge Joint Review Panel Oral Statement

by Sarah Stoner

I arrived at the Delta Hotel about half an hour early. There had been so much hype about protests and security I didn’t really know what to expect. I made my way to the third floor and in my angst, realized that I was the first to arrive. I signed in and decided to go check out the rally outside. There were about a hundred people gathered in solidarity to express their opposition to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project and the way in which the public had somehow been excluded from the “public hearings”.

As it approached one o’clock, the crowd dispersed quickly in order to make it to the offsite location to view the live broadcast of the “public hearings” taking place inside the Delta. I made my way back upstairs.

Those of us that were registered to speak that afternoon gathered in a room down the hall from the actual hearing room. There was a projection screen with the actual hearings being video-cast in this room, so at least we could see what type of an environment we were to be speaking in. We were allowed to have one guest with us, which was definitely a relief in this intimidating environment. The Joint Review Panel officials brought speakers in three at a time, while the rest of waited patiently for our turns. Once you were done presenting your oral statement, you weren’t allowed to return back to the viewing room. If you wanted to watch the presenters that came after you, you were asked to go to the offsite viewing location. Luckily, I presented second to last so was able to watch all of my fellow presenters from the comfort of the waiting room screen down the hall.

I was definitely very nervous when it was my turn to talk.  My heart was pounding so hard it made my voice quiver.  Despite the nerves and the overly intimidating environment, the experience was empowering and I felt great afterwards.

Below is the speech I presented to the JRP. As a staff member of Pacific Wild and a passionate advocate for keeping our coast oil-free, I would be happy to answer any questions or provide advice to those of you that will be giving their oral statements in the coming weeks. Please feel free to get in touch: sarah@pacificwild.org.

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Dear members of the Joint Review Panel,

It’s a pleasure to meet you again. We crossed paths at the Oral Hearings in Hartley Bay nearly a year ago now, but let me re-introduce myself.

My name is Sarah Stoner and I am a resident of Denny Island on the Central Coast of B.C.

I have lived in British Columbia my whole life. I grew up travelling like a yo-yo between Vancouver and Whistler, Mum’s and Dad’s houses respectively. I learned to love the mountains and the ocean at a young age and spent lots of time outdoors exploring what has come to be known as Beautiful British Columbia.

I completed my BA in Geography and Environmental Studies at UVic and went on to pursue a master’s degree in Disaster Planning. My research focused on evaluating the social vulnerability of people living in urban, rural and remote communities on southern Vancouver Island to natural hazards.

Over the last five years, I have stepped outside of my ‘southern B.C. comfort zone’ and started to explore the Northern regions of our beautiful province. I have lived and travelled from Prince George to Haida Gwaii, and from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert. Last spring, my partner, Michael Reid and I, moved aboard our sailboat, Skomalt. Our destination was the North Coast and we were fortunate enough to spend the summer months exploring, working and living between Bella Bella and Hartley Bay.

You have now visited both of these communities and know that they are each unique blends of human and natural ecosystems, modernity and tradition. But where you haven’t been are the places in between. And these places, I assure you, are some of the most sacred in the world.

British Columbia is a province that prides itself on its’ natural heritage and has invested a huge amount of resources into diversifying its’ extraction based economy through developing the tourism and eco-tourism sectors. We have done this successfully, welcoming an average of 5.6 million visitors per year, generating around 12 billion dollars and over 120,000 direct jobs to help foster a sustainable economy. People are drawn to B.C. from all over the world to experience what is a true wilderness.

B.C. is home to the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world. You might have heard of it, it’s come to be known as the Great Bear Rainforest. But, as Helen Clifton, matriarch of the Gitga’at Nation once said: “what will be great about it when there are tankers here?”

And this is a question we must ask ourselves. Turning one of the world’s most pristine and wild ecosystems into a supertanker freeway would be detrimental to the social, environmental and economic systems that maintain our ways of life.

The recommendation you make on the proposed ENGP matters deeply to me and the direct and indirect impacts that this proposed project may have would be devastating. Devastating to me as an individual, to my family, to our community, and to all of our neighbours up and down the coast.

Personally, the impacts of supertankers running through Douglas Channel and out to the open ocean would first off deter me from visiting areas along, and within view of, the tanker route. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one avoiding the route. I’ve spoken to tourism operators in the Great Bear Rainforest and that’s exactly what they’ve said: If Enbridge comes here, we’ll just have to go someplace else where our guests won’t see the tankers.

Playing with Porpoises.Photo by Michael Reid.

Playing with Porpoises.
Photo by Michael Reid.

When living, travelling and working aboard Skomalt, there are many things that I have come to love doing that would be directly impacted by the introduction of oil supertankers to the Great Bear Rainforest. It is rare to go a day travelling the waters of the Central and North Coast of B.C. without seeing some species of cetacean, whether it be porpoises, white sided dolphins, the endangered orca or the threatened humpback.

The deep fjords and narrow channels of the Great Bear Rainforest are some of the quietest oceans in the world, creating acoustic sanctuaries where these cetaceans can echolocate, feed, socialize and practice their mating songs.

When we sight cetaceans from our sailboat, one of the first things we do is drop our hydrophone (a portable, underwater microphone) so we can listen to the whales or dolphins communicate. There is nothing more phenomenal than hearing a school of dolphins giggle away underwater as you watch them splish, splash, jump and twirl on the waters’ surface. The main thing that interferes with us listening to cetaceans via hydrophones, and thus interferes with cetaceans being able to communicate, echolocate and feed is the sound of ships. You can hear a ship underwater long before you can see it approaching. The sound emanating from a ship’s engine uses the same frequencies that cetaceans use, thus blocking any clicks, pings and songs coming from the many species of cetaceans that use acoustics for survival on a daily basis.

Another past time we have come to love while living aboard Skomalt is to hike

Photo by Sarah Stoner

Photo by Sarah Stoner

up and explore the many estuaries that intersect the coast to view wolves, grizzly bears, black bears and the illusive spirit bear. All of these animals rely on salmon as their primary source of food and in the late summer and early fall, you can easily find bears and wolves fishing in the rivers of the Great Bear.

This is how I came to meet my first Spirit Bear. It was mid-August and the salmon were congregating at the mouth of the river, waiting for a big rain to bring the water levels up so they could begin their migration upstream. We crept up the side of the creek bed and after walking for only a few minutes, I spotted his glistening white fur through the salmon berry bushes that separated us from the creek. I watched in awe as the giant creature loafed around, unsuccessfully looking for a tasty salmon breakfast. We observed this bear in peace for some time. He was aware of our presence, but was not concerned by us in any way. My first experience with a spirit bear was absolutely magical. This creature is a true gem, unique to this part of the world and just like the Dogwood is B.C’s official plant, the Spirit Bear is our official mammal. What will happen when a pipeline leak or oil-tanker spill decimate salmon habitat on the coast or in our inland rivers?

Exploring and learning about the natural wonders of the Great Bear Rainforest is indeed one of my favourite past times and I feel so blessed and honoured to be able to have spent time in this part of the world and to call this place home. But what is truly unique and inspiring is being able to spend time listening to and learning from the First Nations’ people that have called this coast home since time immemorial.

We have spent time in Gitga’at, Kitasoo and Heiltsuk territories learning from elders, leaders and community members what it means to really live on this coast. Being most familiar with the Gitga’at nation, I can say with confidence that their culture is rooted in the natural world, that the natural world is what provides sustenance and health to the Gitga’at people and that their traditions are dependent on what the natural world is able to provide. The inter-connections and inter-dependence of the Gitga’at Nation with their surrounding ecosystem is so deep that an oil-tanker spill of any substantial size along the proposed tanker route would cause a cultural genocide of the Gitga’at people. And we all know that it’s not a matter of if an oil spill were to happen, but when.

That leaves me with a question: how many years will the Gitga’at nation continue to thrive in the territory that they have occupied for thousands of years before they are forced to leave, to abandon their culture and ways of life.

And it’s not just an oil spill that will erode the culture of the Gitga’at nation and other First Nations along the Central and North coast, but the very proposal and this associated review process have already begun to have detrimental effects on coastal peoples. The very introduction of the proposal and the extensive and expensive JRP process has manifested into a source of stress for Gitga’at people and their families and has instilled a sense of “uncertainty about the future” (Gill & Ritchie, 2011).

And then there’s the expansion. Currently, ENGP is being assessed at 525,000 bpd, but what about Enbridge’s four-phase expansion plan that would increase throughput of 850,000 bpd? As currently proposed, the pipe would be built to accommodate this increased capacity. Will the risks ever be considered and adequately assessed, especially on the marine side?

And it’s not just ENGP that we are concerned about, here. In addition, five proponents have already, or are in the process of, filing applications to develop LNG export terminals out of either Kitimat or Prince Rupert on the North Coast. I have a deep concern that the cumulative social, environmental, economic, health and cultural impacts of these 6 major industrial development projects are not being adequately considered, as part of this environmental assessment process.

The proposed ENGP project, which seeks to export raw bitumen through one of the most unique, pristine and sacred parts of the world at the expense of entire societies and ecosystems, is absolutely not in the national interest. As a citizen of Canada, and a resident of the Great Bear Rainforest, I urge you to give the proposed ENGP project a negative recommendation, for the future of our nation, our economy and our planet.

I fell in love with the Great Bear Rainforest. We fell in love in the Great Bear Rainforest. We recently got engaged in the Great Bear Rainforest and we would do anything to ensure that we will one day be able to share this sacred place with our children and our grandchildren.

Thank you.

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