Georgia Strait Alliance is the only citizens' group focused on protecting the marine environment in and around the whole Strait of Georgia – Canada's most at-risk natural environment, and the place where 70% of British Columbians live, work and play. We are committed to a future for our region that includes clean water and air, healthy wild salmon runs, rich marine life and natural areas, and sustainable communities.

August 30, 2010

Nature's rhythms: a kayaker's tale

Each year, as part of my annual holidays, my husband and I reconnect with nature through a week of wilderness kayaking. Taking all the necessities of life with us - which does not include a cell phone! - we travel to parts of BC whose beauty and ruggedness take our breaths away. Though we live without the creature comforts of our daily city life (save for coffee, chocolate and a good book, of course!), we spend this week reconnecting with things that matter most to us.

In the 8 summers we've taken to the waters on these trips, we have spent some time in some spectacular places. From the Broken Group on the west coast of Vancouver Island to Desolation Sound, from Read and West Redonda Islands to most recently exploring the Islands off the north shore of Vancouver Island. All these places are unique, they are all remarkable, and we've found them to be restorative and spectacular.

There are many things I love about these trips but high on the list is that during this week, our minds are not focused on deadlines or appointments or emails galore, but instead on the simplicity of life in the natural world. Our attention is on the basics - food, clothing and shelter. When your day is reduced to these fundamentals, you are both busy yet free to use your time to simply be.

Living simply within the natural world also means you must ebb and flow with her rhythms. You can have all the plans in the world for your trip but how easily or possible it is to achieve them depends on how well you match your plans with nature's rhythms. That fact is a lesson that I've really learned in the last 8 years.

I remember our first overnight trip to the Broken Group in 2003. My husband was an intermediate kayaker and very experienced canoeist from his Ontario days. I, on the other hand, was a novice kayaker who had never done an overnight kayak trip. I still remember how frightened I was as each tiny wave or small swell hit my boat. After many years on the water, I've come to learn what the waves and swells mean, and how to use their power to make kayaking easier. It's about working with nature, not against her. Learning more about waves, winds, currents and tides has meant that we shape our day to what nature is doing rather than trying to force our schedule on her. The result is we go further, see more of the region we're exploring and enjoy our paddling that much more.

The varied emotions we experience on our trips are more than I can put down here. But on this trip alone, they ranged from the peacefulness of seeing deer feeding on kelp on the beach, to joy at seeing frolicking sea otters, to wonder at seeing salmon - large and small - jumping for hours on end, to the absolute fear of finding a black bear less that 15 feet from our tent (thankfully the velcro sound from the bear spray being unclipped was enough to encourage the bear along!). But all these memorable experiences have been possible because we've put ourselves in a place where we can be - for a short time - a part of nature's rhythms.

These trips are to us a gift and a sanctuary in our busy lives. But the lessons we learned are the ones we as a society must learn too. We must live with the rhythms of nature not fight them. If we don't, then this journey we are on will continue to be a hard one, with devastating effects. But if enough of us live by this credo, then good paddling and happy, healthy days are truly ahead.

August 20, 2010

Government Not Making it Easy for Concerned Citizens to Weigh in on Wild Salmon Issues

When it rains it pours! This summer has seen a deluge of public comment periods concerning wild salmon in BC. (See the list below.) While this suggests that government wants to hear from us on these issues – many of the people who are most affected by the impacts of fish farms are extremely busy this time of year and unavailable to participate in public consultation processes.

It’s also interesting that the Cohen Commission chose to hold public hearings just as fishermen are able for the first time in years to go out and harvest Fraser River Sockeye and ecotourism season is in full swing. And the rest of us? Well, many of us are out enjoying the summer weather, perhaps on vacation…who wants to be indoors writing submissions and attending meetings?

Forgive me for being a wee bit cynical, but maybe the federal government doesn’t actually want to hear what we have to say on these issues so critical to wild salmon. That’s why it is so urgent for each and every one of us to take part in at least one if not all of these public consultations.

We’ve already heard fish farmers claiming that this year’s anticipated large sockeye runs mean fish farms aren’t a problem, which is of course ridiculous. These Sockeye runs should be even bigger than expected as several dominant runs are returning this year, and while some Fraser River Sockeye runs are doing okay, specific stocks are in dire straits.

So don’t let the summer slide by without weighing in – wild salmon need your voice! Here are the opportunities for participation:

Tell the National Organics Standards Board (CGSB) NO! No organic certification of net-cage farmed salmon.

Tell Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to fulfill their constitutional mandate and implement regulations that will protect wild salmon!

Tell Judge Cohen to recommend the permanent removal of all fish farms on Fraser salmon migratory routes to protect wild salmon!

Also, make sure to comment on the draft global salmon farming standards recently released by the Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue:

Tell the Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue (SAD) Not good enough! We need tougher standards to reduce or eliminate the ecological and social impacts of salmon farming.
Deadline: October 3, 2010.

August 4, 2010

For You I Am a Better Person

Working in the environmental sector can be both rewarding and incredibly trying and stressful. It can take years, even decades, to see any sort of positive change around a particular issue, and it’s not surprising that people in this line of work often burn out. Recently I was finding myself uninspired, frustrated and, needless to say, unproductive. So I took an unplanned two week vacation to hang out at my new home on remote Sonora Island, to reconnect with nature, and to relax and recharge.

On my very first morning off, I walked out in front of my cabin to a tiny little beach, and to my dismay found it was covered in little pieces of Styrofoam – it was in the vegetation at the high tide mark, all along the water’s edge, and floating in the water too. Just what I needed on my day off, I grumbled to myself as I angrily began picking up the garbage…a beach cleanup! Where did it come from I wondered? Don’t people know that this stuff soaks up toxins and becomes little poison pills to any creatures that might eat it? Don’t they know that mama birds feed this to their chicks and they starve to death with it choking their stomachs? Don’t they know about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge gyre full of plastic garbage covering an area the size of Texas?

I couldn’t possibly pick it all up. I wasn’t even going to try, but I couldn’t just walk away. So I filled up my garbage can in short order, knowing I would have to pack it out with me the next time I left Sonora. This vacation was not allowing me to forget my work, and I kept thinking about it as the days went by; especially when I went to the same beach a few days later and found more Styrofoam had washed up onto the beach…and I picked up some more garbage.

But as my vacation passed by, I began to see things in a whole new light. Who was I to be angry about picking up a little garbage on my day off, when thousands of people volunteer to do that sort of thing every day? Who was I to complain about stress and burnout when it is an honour and privilege to do this work? Who was I to resent the grief and anguish I feel about the state of the world, right down to the tiny bits of Styrofoam on “my” beach, when others fight injustices solely on their convictions while I collect a pay cheque for my efforts? 

So I returned to work two weeks after my impromptu little beach cleanup very humbled and grateful to have such a job. But even more so, I am honoured to know so many of you who do amazing things every day just because it is the right thing to do. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for it is each and every one of you that prevents me from sinking into despair, and keeps me hopeful for our future. Thank you! For you I am a better person.