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 8, 2014

Another environmental disaster – how do we say “enough”?

As I read article after article about the recent tailing ponds breach at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine, I am overwhelmed with the facts and the many more questions that the incident has left us
What we know is that 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden fine tailings were discharged into Hazeltine Creek.  We know that this water system is connected to the Fraser River,  one of our most important salmon bearing waterways. We also know that the breach happened after multiple warnings from the Ministry of the Environment about the pond exceeding its permitted height, the most recent warning coming this past May. 

Photo: Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press
What we don’t know is when communities in the area will be able to drink the water nearby.  We also have no idea what the medium and long-term impacts will be, in particular because the incident happened just as salmon are starting to enter the area.  Some say the region may never fully recover.  We don’t know.

But we do know something else - this incident was preventable and that it is guaranteed that similar incidents will happen again.  We know this because when industries are allowed to self- regulate and governments believe that economic growth can only happen one way – at all costs - harm is inevitable.

So what do we, the citizens of this province, do?

As issues of democratic reform and loss of democracy in this country bubble over, it is clear to me that the apathy that Canadians show regarding voting has left our governments with a false sense of empowerment.  Contrary to what Canadians say they want, they are deregulating our environmental protection laws and giving over environmental stewardship over to industry whose primary driver is profit, not protection. 

With every provincial and federal election that passes, fewer and fewer of us vote.  We have abrogated our right, and in my opinion, our duty to vote and take part in the most important opportunity we have to influence what kind of country we want to live in.  But it’s important to note, it isn’t our only opportunity. They are our governments, they work for us and that accountability has to be kept up not just at election time but every day in between. If we don’t like the way they protect our environment, we must let them know. 

Many of us our heartbroken about the Mount Polley incident, devastated by what we know will be impacts on our waters, salmon and other wildlife – for years to come.  But we can’t stop at hand-wringing.  If we want accountability, we must demand it.  If we want better environmental protection laws, monitoring and enforcement, we must ask for it.  

Please contact your MLA or MP and let them know that “enough is enough”.  We did not elect industry to protect our air and water, we elected our government and they must do their job.

We must raise our voices – because if we don’t, in a few weeks when this disaster fades from the headlines, things will go back to the new normal, where projects are approved without proper environmental assessment and monitoring of laws are left to this system which puts industry in charge.  And then, it’s just a matter of time before our communities, our environment and our economy pay another ultimate price. 

I say “enough”.

August 5, 2014

Helping the Kelp

Michael Mehta with the tools of the trade...
a GPS and rubber ducky thermometer
I'm very fortunate to have had some amazing experiences in my life, and last week while on vacation was no exception. I've recently moved to Gabriola Island, and was looking for ways to contribute to my new community...and Help the Kelp caught my eye. When I saw they were looking for volunteers to go out and map the bull kelp beds, I jumped at the chance, and am I ever glad I did.

Our crew consisting of Michael, Nancy, and I, mapped a chunk of the north end of Gabriola. My job was to take GPS waypoints and temperature readings, as Nancy took detailed notes. She noted everything from the temperature of the water, whether we were mapping single kelp, lines of kelp, or full beds, the density of the kelp beds, health of the kelp, and more. Not only that, but she swam out to get our 'sweet ride' and towed it back into shore...Michael figures she's about a half horsepower!

Me driving the boat!
Help the Kelp
volunteer Nancy Laird

Michael was our able Captain as we navigated shallow waters amongst kelp...of course...avoiding rocks and other hazards on a bit of a rough day. Rough enough to be fun, but rough weather also makes it more difficult to spot the kelp, and more dangerous as we had to get close to shore and over reefs where the kelp beds are found.

Not only did I have a fantastic time, as pretty much any day on the water is a good day for me, but I learned a ton about kelp, and got to meet some really great people too. As if that wasn't enough, I got to drive the boat...and so did Nancy!

But most importantly, this is citizen science at its best. There was no baseline data on kelp beds around Gabriola Island before this mighty and determined little group of folks came along. And baseline data is critical since Help the Kelp not only monitors the kelp around Gabriola, but advocates for its protection from threats (such as climate change, reckless boaters, and log booms), and plants kelp too.

So this is it...what we know about bull kelp around here, and a chance for its recovery, is thanks to a group started by Ken Capon, who sadly passed away in 2012. What an amazing legacy he leaves behind...I only wish I got to meet him.