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.

October 29, 2013

Help create maps of a potential oil spill in the Salish Sea

If you’re out exploring the coast this week, you might spot a bright yellow wooden card lying on the beach. Pick it up and hang on to it; the cards are part of a new research project we've launched with Raincoast Conservation Foundation to map where oil might travel if there were to be a spill in the Salish Sea.

Watch us on Global TV explaining the project
Over the past week, we dropped 1000 of these drift cards at locations where there is a higher risk of an accident along the tanker route that runs from Burrard Inlet, through the Gulf Islands and out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Just like a message in a bottle, the drift cards carry a simple message: this could be oil.

Hundreds of the cards have already been found, and plotted on a map via our new website at You can explore the map to see how far and fast oil could travel, and which beaches, communities and wildlife habitats could be affected in the event of a spill.

High school students launching drift cards 
under Second Narrows Bridge
Photo by Jill Fitz Herschbold
How does it work? Much like oil on water, drift cards are influenced by both surface ocean currents and wind. Each card (made of FSC-certified plywood and eco-friendly paints and labels) bears a unique number that links the location where it was found to the site where it was dropped, which allows us to broadly track the card’s movements, and how long it took to travel between the two points. Drift cards have commonly been used as part of oil spill research by universities and government agencies. You can read more about the science of drift card research, including how we chose our drop locations and some of the differences between oil and plywood cards, here.  

We have two goals with this project. The first is to create a set of maps showing different scenarios for a spill on BC’s south coast – data which has so far not been readily available to the public. The second is to raise awareness about the threat of an oil spill in the Salish Sea due to Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline expansion, and highlight how unprepared we are to deal with a major spill – especially one involving diluted bitumen.
The little coloured markers that represent oil on our map already ring the iconic skyline of Vancouver Harbour. As we were launching some of the cards yesterday near Salt Spring Island, we had a humpback whale for company. No matter where oil was to spill in the Salish Sea, we have so much to lose.

So if you spot one of our yellow drift cards while walking along your favourite beach, imagine the consequences if it were oil instead. Then please tell us you’ve found a card (by phone, email or online) and take action to protect this incredible place we call home. 

With thanks to Patagonia and the Brainerd Foundation for their generous support of this project.

October 23, 2013

Crossing Georgia Strait

This fall, Karen Jørgensen has joined the GSA team as a volunteer and we're so happy to have her on board.  From time to time, she'll be sharing her experiences of her work with us and our coast as a guest blogger.

Last Wednesday, I enjoyed a scenic ferry ride from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay. Some of the things I enjoy most about taking the BC ferries include checking out what the gift shop has to offer, wandering around the deck in hopes of spotting wildlife as well as just taking in the view from a comfy seat inside, as it has a very calming effect on me.

Photo: Karen Jørgensen
As always, the crossing of the Georgia Strait was gorgeous - beautiful mountains in the horizon, sailboats on the water and a blue sky which gradually turned red during the sailing. I have only encountered scenery as stunning as this here in coastal BC. I have spent most of my life in Denmark where the landscape is pretty
 but lacks the exquisite wildlife that BC has to offer. I have no doubt that I will miss the BC coast and mountains when I return to Denmark in a few months.

Sailing on this mighty inland ocean really made me realize how fortunate I am to be living on this side of the world right now. There are so many undiscovered treasures to explore. Although I did not spot any wildlife on this ferry ride, as I had hoped, the crossing was still great because of the spectacular scenery. In fact, I did not mind the 15 min delay leaving from Nanaimo since it gave me more time to sit back and enjoy all my stunning surroundings!
I certainly do look forward to crossing the Georgia Strait once again this Thursday when I will be going to Georgia Strait Alliance’s fundraising event in Victoria. The event takes place from 6 to 8 pm at the new Robert Bateman Centre Gallery and will include a silent auction and sustainable seafood.

I really hope to see you there!

October 10, 2013

Art meets conservation – and celebration

The idea that social change and the arts are siloed and separate is never a world view I’ve shared. Growing up in Ontario, we had political discussions around the evening newscast while many weekends we spent attending artistic performances at Stratford, the O’Keefe Centre in Toronto or the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-lake.  Dance, music, visual arts, theatre – and combinations of these – were the norm and often they delved into complex nature of politics and the human experience.  They were all one.

Jim Morris
Today, the siloes exist even less in my life. Being married to a theatrical lighting and set designer, many of our evenings are spent taking in the latest theatrical presentation at theatre houses small and large around Vancouver.  I also sit on the Board of a small theatre company and of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.  Artists are our story tellers and our conscience and so often help us begin to make sense of the complex issues the surrounds us.  I couldn’t imagine my life without regularly diving into their interpretations of the human condition. That artists and social changes makers are working more together to build and understand the world we live in makes sense – and together, we are a powerful force.

Last week I attended a Symposium at the Artists for Conservation Festival and I felt right at home. Surrounded by the creations of dozens of incredible artists, leading conservationists talked about their work, and of the challenges we face.  Some talked about specific issues, while others spoke about how we needed to develop a new way of thinking about what conservation was and how environmentalism worked – and how art and artists (in all their forms) were becoming more important in how we connected with people and how we were going to build a better world.  Raincoast Foundation's recent “Art for an Oil Free Coast” initiative showed just how powerful that partnership can be. 

On October 24th, Georgia Strait Alliance will be holding a fundraiser at the new Bateman Centre in Victoria – and the location couldn’t be more perfect.  Robert Bateman’s art has helped many generations of Canadians better understand the natural world around them and be more engaged in protecting what we have.  What better way to celebrate our work and our future than surrounded by the art of one so committed to the same cause we are – ensuring that the richness of our land and water is here to support us for generations to come. 

We hope you’ll come and celebrate with us on the 24th.   It will be an inspirational evening – and we hope one of many to come where the arts and the environment share an equal stage.

October 4, 2013

First time shoreline cleanup participant tells her tale

This fall, Karen Jørgensen is joining the GSA team as a volunteer and we're so happy to have her on board.  From time to time, she'll be sharing her experiences of her work with us and our coast as a guest blogger.

On September 28th I took part in the Great Canadian Shoreline cleanup for the first time. Despite the wet and cold weather, I joined around 25 volunteers who showed up to clean the shores along Burrard Inlet by Portside Park.

Photo: Karen Jørgensen
Even though the shore looked fairly clean at first glance, once we were done, our recording sheets and our collecting bags showed things were not as they seemed. We were divided into groups of three or four people and in my group alone we collected 3000 cigarette butts, several plastic bags, a couple of needles and a few batteries. All of this and much more causes great harm to our beautiful coast, which should be there for all of us to enjoy without having to look at all this garbage. I find it very unfortunate that people litter in such a gorgeous place.

One thing is certain - this Shore Cleanup will certainly not be my last. I felt really thankful for being part of the event as spending time along the coast, breathing in the fresh air - and even removing trash from coast - was a great feeling - as Portside Park became a cleaner shore after the cleanup. Despite the sadness I felt at all the litter left behind, it was rewarding to be a part of the cleanup as our work showed off immediately. Also, seeing the difference volunteers of all ages can make for our shores was great and I felt wonderful being a part of it. I would definitely recommend that you join the shore Cleanup next year – you won’t regret it!

October 2, 2013

Just asking for a little leadership

As I came out of a meeting today, I realized this mind-boggling fact - I’ve been involved in discussions, consultations and campaigns around wastewater treatment in the region for over 11 years.  I don’t remember seeing ‘advanced wastewater treatment advocate’ on my guidance councillor’s list of careers when I was in high school, but somehow I’ve ended up in this place where my knowledge of treatment technologies and processes is pretty deep – terrifyingly deep! 

Having been involved in public and community consultations in Metro Vancouver, the Capital Regional District of Victoria, the Regional District of Nanaimo, along with national level consultations, I could go on ad nauseum about biosolids, total suspended solids and fecal coliform levels – but who really wants to read about that over dinner?!

What I will say is that in my experience the best processes that I’ve been involved with are the ones where staff, politicians and those giving of their time on advisory committees all work together to create a vision for what wastewater treatment can bring to a community.  Not only is the conversation about deadlines, technology and cost, but about how this investment will make our waters cleaner, communities healthier and even produce resources that can provide a revenue stream.  I tip my hat to Metro Vancouver for their willingness to make their liquid resource management plan (yes, resource, not waste!) better by working with and listening to the Reference Panel that had been created to offer advice.  Thanks to the willingness of senior staff to put in the time with us, the plan is better – and that’s good for all of us.  Other regions could learn from this process and I hope they do.

Photo: Bryan Nordley
But there is one thing I would wish for all regional districts when it comes to building large infrastructure projects, and that is – trust your citizens.  Too often I see plans presented not built around a vision of benefits to a region or community, but starting with fear about the cost.  The public are not fools but if you don’t provide information for why you want to invest in better wastewater treatment – and that you feel forced to by national regulations is not a vision - a self-fulfilling prophecy of opposition will occur.  No one likes their taxes to go up, but most of us can be inspired to invest our hard earned money if we see that the project will, in the case of wastewater treatment, protect our coastal waters and wildlife and our communities.

We saw this in Vancouver when the community itself chose the plan for the Public Library, even though it was going to cost more than other plans.  Now we have a building that is iconic and provides a wonderful gathering place for its citizens.

So regional governments -- trust your citizens and help lead us towards a better future.  I know personally, it’s one I would be more than happy to build with you.