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.

May 31, 2013

Newcomer's View of Our Ocean Home

Over the summer, we have the pleasure of having Bryan Nordley join us as our Communications Assistant.  Here, he shares with us some of his thoughts on our oceans.

Photo: Bryan Nordley
The ocean is the heart beat of our planet. We depend on it for recreation, for food and for our economy. Human life as we know it could not survive without these vast, majestic and mysterious waters that surround and divide our continents.  Our reliance and dependence however places great stress upon the complex ecological systems and species which inhabit the sea. As the human population increases and nations around the world continue to industrialize the world’s oceans will face unprecedented stress and challenges to their ecological well-being. 

Unlike most organisms in the world, humans don’t live symbiotically with their environment, including the ocean, and the problems we create are numerous.  Pollution in particular is a critical problem.  One would think humanity would find occurrences like the Great Pacific garbage patch to be unacceptable yet this offensive toxic bed of floating trash grows each year and is estimated to be anywhere from 270,000 sq mi to 5,800,000 sq mi. In larger terms the estimate is 0.41-8% the size of the Pacific Ocean.

Elsewhere marine traffic such as containers ships and tankers continue to pollute the air and water across our oceans leaving suspended particles in the water.

Furthermore our release of C02 carbon emissions, which contribute to global climate change, actually cycles into our oceans increasing acidification. Ocean acidification critically affects species with carbonate shells, like molluscs by impacting their ability to create their shells and survive, and this has a big impacts on ocean ecosystems as many marine species depend on these species for food.  Eventually this problem alone will directly cost coastal nations' economies with losses in the billions of dollars. The problem will only be compounded with industrialization of Asia and the global south, whose economies are also most at risk as they rely heavily  on our oceans as a food source for their growing populations (the first article talks about economic impact). These are only a few problems, which plague our seas.

Here in Vancouver, we are surrounded by the beauty of the mountains and the ocean, home to an abundance of marine wildlife.  In my opinion, it is a coexistence unlike any other major city in North America.  Because we are immersed in such beauty, the larger man made problems of our oceans may seem
Photo: Bryan Nordley
 far away. Those who grew up here may not be aware of the rest of world’s oceanic perils but this is often something we take for granted.  Vancouver’s environmental awareness has spawned both from community and political efforts that emerged from dedicated and concerned citizens of British Columbia.  British Columbia’s climate of environmentalism is one of the factors that drives people to come, experience and live here. There are very few places in North America where is it safe and verifiable to swim in a bay with such a spectacular backdrop of a skyline.  Beaches in Vancouver Harbour are regularly safe to swim in, with little to no beach closures throughout the summer. This is in stark contrast to beaches in Los Angeles, with famous destinations like Santa Monica Pier Beach closed 57% of last years season.

Our stewardship as a community  is what makes this place unique and it’s environment so awe-inspiring.  British Columbians love the relative pristine waters of their Georgia Strait, and this unprecedented environment is what drew people like me to want to live here from thousands of miles away. Yet the Strait of Georgia faces many threats like the world at large such as increased tanker traffic and ocean acidification.

But it is the community of advocacy and awareness which helps maintain the health of our waters and protect against such increasing threats.  And this is why programs like Georgia Strait Alliance's Stewards of the Strait are vital to maintaining the health of our waters and their ecosystem as well as a community of awareness. 

We may not be able to fight against all the greater oceanic problems of our world but we can make changes where we live at the grass roots.  Stewards of the Strait's pledge system of simple everyday practical steps can help us do our small but important part in protecting  species and ecosystem against harm.  Easing the damage that greater issues may place on them and our environment might not seem like much but a water recreational and beach city constantly interacts with its oceanic environment and if every person does their small part, together as community, we can maintain the health our inland sea, continue to set an example for other oceanic communities and in the process protect our environment for generations to come. 

May 16, 2013

BC Election results: making sense of the tea leaves

It's been more than a day since the results of the BC election were finalized and I’m still trying to read the tea leaves of what British Columbians have told us. 

The results of the election are – to say the least – puzzling.  At a time when we need action on climate change, no increase in tankers on our coast, and protection for wild salmon from the impacts of fish farms and other threats, voters elected a government that did not even mention salmon in its platform, and only twice mentioned climate change (one of those mentions was simply a boast about past policy announcements, many of which are no longer in place).

In the months and weeks leading up to the vote, thousands of citizens had spoken out or taken action to oppose new pipelines and tankers on our coast. From our perspective it seemed that British Columbians were telling us clearly what kind of leadership they wanted.  Yet the electorate voted for a government that put forth just “five conditions” for accepting these developments – conditions which can be met with a few tweaks and a cash transfer. 

How do we explain the dissonance? 

One place to start looking for answers is in the map of election results, which reveals a stark regional division. In the Lower Mainland, the results were mixed, but elsewhere along the entire length of BC’s coast, all but a single riding elected representatives from parties that had made a commitment to take action on climate change and to oppose the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan proposals. In the rest of BC (other than the Kootenays), it’s a different story.  Surely, the divided values in our communities reflected in this map cannot bode well for our province as a whole.

We also have to look into why almost half of eligible voters in BC choose not to vote. It’s possible some were happy with the status quo and felt no need to engage. Others may have been completely turned off by the heavy advertising and “attack” style of modern political campaigns.  Or perhaps our first-past-the-post electoral system has caused people to lose hope that their perspectives can be represented in our legislature, so they’ve given up trying.  Sadly, by choosing to stay home, they may have turned that fear into a reality.  Perhaps it truly is time to press for electoral reform, at both the provincial and federal level, since the current system does not allow all perspectives to be presented in our legislature.  However with the current system benefiting the winner, there is no political motivation for those in charge to make this change.    

More significantly, I believe, most people still believe that the economy trumps the environment.  Long term economic sustainability cannot be built on the sale of our raw resources to Asia and at the risk of our own environment – the true foundation for long term economic sustainability is a properly protected, healthy and sustainable natural environment. But during the latter part of the election campaign, a “jobs through economic growth at all cost” message started to dominate, and despite being very short on facts, eventually won the day with the majority of voters.

Clearly, the environmental movement did not reach the majority of British Columbians with the fact that “jobs” and “the environment” are not two opposing values – they’re one and the same. Our task now must be to find better ways to get that vital message across, so that fear of the unknown doesn’t continue to trump facts.  Climate change cannot be seen as an “environmental” issue – it is very much an economic one.  If we don’t get that right, and soon, our world will be in serious trouble.

In our country it certainly doesn’t seem like government leaders are getting this right. Our federal government has been criticizing world-renowned climate scientists while putting its tar sands promotion into high gear, and now our provincial government also appears to have sets its sights on building a fossil fuel-based economy at all cost. 

So what do those tea leaves tell me about where we can go from here?

Of course we’ll keep encouraging leadership from provincial and federal government officials, but for now, if we want leadership on climate change and sustainability, I believe we must look for it at the local level. If we’re to protect our local waters, build healthy waterfronts and grow our economy for a sustainable future, we will need to focus on those individuals, businesses, local and regional governments who are stepping up to the plate because – unlike our unlike senior government leaders – they understand what we have to lose by continuing along the path our society has been on. We may not be able to find the leadership we need in Victoria or Ottawa, but we can – and must – find it along the bays, inlets and shorelines of the communities who understand and care so much for Georgia Strait.

May 9, 2013

Dear Kinder Morgan: our province is not for sale

At Kinder Morgan’s annual shareholder meeting in Texas this week, oil executives gathered in the heart of the American oil patch to celebrate another year of profits and investor payouts.

It’s a timely reminder of whose interests are really served by Kinder Morgan’s plan to triple the capacity of the Transmountain pipeline. Here’s a hint: it’s not you and me.

So who benefits if the Kinder Morgan pipeline goes ahead? Certainly not BC, which bears all the risk of a new pipeline and increased tanker traffic, and faces a devastating oil spill that could ruin our coast, our communities and our economy for decades to come.  In the long run, not Canada either, as we commit ourselves ever further to a boom and bust resource cycle, and our over reliance on bitumen undermines a diversified, resilient economy.  And not the rest of the world, as we pump billions of extra tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and take another giant step towards the cliff of catastrophic climate change.  The real winner is Kinder Morgan, and people like CEO Richard Kinder – a former Enron executive and one of the richest men in the world.

But BC has a history of standing up against those who would sell off our heritage to the highest bidder. Pipelines and tanker traffic are proving to be a defining issue of the BC election, and opposition to Kinder Morgan’s expansion plan is at an all-time high.

So, Kinder Morgan, British Columbians have a message for you: our province is not for sale.

May 1, 2013

Never a better time to give ... or win!

You've been thinking about it for awhile.

Maybe it was after we won an order for Victoria to treat its sewage or when we won a legal victory to gain better protection for our orcas.  Whatever the reason, you've wanted to support GSA for awhile because investing in the protection of our oceans is always an important thing to do, and a charitable donation to Georgia Strait Alliance is the best way for you to know our inland sea is being protected.

But we'd like to give you another reason to give - a chance to enjoy a few hours on the waters that you love so much and GSA works all year to protect.

If you make a charitable donation of any amount during the month of May, you will be entered in a draw to win:
  • Two tickets for a 2.5 hour harbour cruise aboard the 70' schooner "Passing Cloud".

  • The cruise will depart Granville Island on June 8th at either at 9:30 am or 12:30 pm
Six winners will be drawn and all donations made throughout the month of May will be eligible. We thank OuterShores Expeditions for this incredibly generous donation.

Another bonus for donating now?

Once you make a charitable donation which makes you a member of Georgia Strait Alliance, you will get a $3 off coupon to the Vancouver Festival of Ocean Films.

If you register to attend our Annual General Meeting on June 9th at 4 pm in Vancouver, you are eligible for a 50% off coupon to the Film Festival. Membership does have its privileges!

There really has never been a better time to contribute to the health of the Salish Sea - and to the organization that for nearly 23 years has protected its waters and communities so well.

Thank you so much for your support.