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 17, 2011

Reflections from Kelly & Heather, GSA's Summer Outreach Team

A Reflection on Summer Outreach 2011
by Community Outreach Team - Heather & Kelly

This summer the Georgia Strait Alliance (GSA) had a late start to its outreach program, but Kelly and I still managed to attend over fifteen events! We had an extremely busy July, attending events in Victoria, Salt Spring, Nanaimo, Courtenay and even made it to the mainland(Vancouver and Delta). The position, Community Outreach Coordinator at GSA meant more than just a Co-op placement. This summer I saw myself as a Steward of the Strait and a member of the GSA family. I have developed a better sense of local issues happening along the Georgia Strait, within our communities and an environmental awareness. I grew up along the Georgia Strait and this summer provided me the time and resources to make an effort to protect the body of water I have grown to love and appreciate.

Attending events was definitely the highlight for me this summer. I met amazing people who live and play along the Georgia Strait and listened their stories and concerns. At events I connected with people in my community that care about the same environmental issues and the Georgia Strait. When I first entered into the position of Community Outreach Coordinator in early June, I thought of it as a job position and a role I was supposed to play within an organization. I was surprised and delighted to discover that my outlook changed quickly because I found a position that I really feel passionate about. GSA is a close-knit family, all very supportive and encouraging of each other. I have made friendships this summer that I hope will last a lifetime. GSA is an outstanding organization that looks after the Georgia Strait, its employees and the communities we live in along the Georgia Strait.

I am a fourth year Business student at the University of Victoria and throughout this work term I have discovered things about myself that have become extremely important to me in continuing my education and career. Working at GSA has been a good example of effective organizational structure and I have discovered that a career in business doesn’t just mean reaping profits and wasting resources. It is crucial that a business incorporates environmental standards and environmental precautions when appropriate. I have always thought that as a business person, you have to make choices and take precautions to protect the environment. After this summer I wish to work in a career finding sustainable solutions and helping others. I hope to have an organization of my own one day that is structured similar to GSA and that I can be as welcoming, supportive and inspiring as the employees at GSA.

Over the past couple of months I have had the privilege of meeting people all over the Georgia Strait that are passionate about the future of the marine environment and the communities along it. As a student studying planning, many people ask how my education transcends to my job as a summer Community Outreach Coordinator. First, there is the simple answer that planners plan for the future and GSA’s mission is to advocate and preserve the marine environment for future generations. However, this is not the only area where my experience with GSA has broadened understanding of what it means to be a planner. Planners are responsible for incorporating the wants and needs of the public in an effort to develop priorities which are used to help guide a community in how it develops and changes over time.

My role this summer was to ask people about their issues, concerns, and places that they love around the Georgia Strait, as well as educate the public on specific concerns and programs that GSA advocates for. With this job I was continuously challenged with particular questions where I lacked the specific knowledge to answer, but was given the opportunity to help and advise people with information they could use. In this process, I found people were truly surprised that a non-profit organization actually hired two students to engage the public and ask them what their priorities and concerns were with regard to the marine environment.

Typically planners are required to inform the public about any changes which may occur to the built environment or to a town’s official community plan. What my experience with GSA has taught me is that the standard mediums planners use to inform the public, usually a single local newspaper, is no longer sufficient with regard to informing the public about changes which may impact their community and the environment around them. Municipal offices and government bodies need to take greater initiative and learn from organizations like GSA, who not only invest in classic forms of public engagement, but also harness new mediums for public consultation, such as social networking i.e. Twitter, Facebook, and Blogging.

My job with GSA this summer has taught me many things that cannot be summed up in a simple reflection blog. My time with GSA has given me is a new found appreciation for the importance of public engagement and responsibility, that individuals have to stay informed about the public’s concerns and vision of the future.

All photos by Heather Coupland.

August 4, 2011

A Personal Story to Inspire Change

A Personal Story to Inspire Change

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
Leo Tolstoy

While I have only been with the Georgia Strait Alliance (GSA) for a short time, I have been inspired by what individual people can do and how like minded people can change the way we think and live. At a recent staff meeting, I was truly enlightened by GSA’s mission “to protect and restore the marine environment and promote the sustainability of Georgia Strait, its adjoining waters and communities.” Those who work and volunteer for GSA do so because they believe that they can positively change the way people live, and protect the marine environment in our community. As a summer student, I have personally experienced how advocacy, education, and outreach are useful tools for connecting people with issues around the Georgia Strait and the health of the marine environment.

Having the role of a community outreach coordinator, I am given the opportunity to attend events and festivals in different communities along the Georgia Strait. At these events, I discuss people’s concerns, ideas and things they love about the Georgia Strait, in an effort to connect people and further develop our community map. At these events, I meet people who have been directly impacted by issues that GSA is deeply connected to and concerned with, for example open-net salmon aquaculture.

The negative impacts of open-net salmon farming have been recognizably linked to a variety of serious environmental issues, such as the limited growth and development of wild salmon. Additionally, open-net salmon farming is thought to have an impact on coastal tourism, and the ability of individuals to maintain recreational fishing as a viable business. Recently, I met a person who shared a truly wearisome story about the loss of his business as a recreational fishing guide.

This gentleman, who we will call Garry, expressed his early success as fishing guide and his love of taking people from around the world out on his boat to fish for wild salmon. Garry shared how he and his family built and ran a fishing lodge on one of the small islands north of Nanaimo, and throughout the summer months took tourists to catch wild, native salmon. Currently, however Garry is no longer able to keep his lodge going or continue to work as a recreational fishing guide. Garry attributes the decrease of the recreational fishing industry to the increase in open-net salmon farms and notes that as the number of farms has increased in the Georgia Strait, the number of wild, mature and lice free salmon have become almost impossible to find.

Garry’s story is truly disheartening, but unfortunately is not the only one I have heard. For this reason I want others to look at the big picture regarding open-net salmon farming. Although many see it as a profitable and viable business that supports local economies- ask these two simple questions: What about local businesses that are being displaced by open-net salmon farming and how can open-net salmon farming stay sustainable ? Garry’s story serves as a message for others to protect the marine environment, but also that preserving and maintaining the health of the marine ecosystem is essential in sustaining the livelihoods of various people living along the Georgia Strait.

I hope others will continue to stop and think about where the salmon they are consuming comes from, and make a personal effort to support the campaign for the immediate transition of all open-net salmon farms to a closed-containment system. For further information and to voice your concerns, please add to our community map or visit our website and learn what you can do. Also, to further expand our engagement with those who care and live along the Georgia Strait, please follow us on Twitter and Facebook to add and share your ideas, comments and concerns.

Kelly Sims