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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The People of the Broughton Helping Heal the Ocean

This is the third and final update from the Broughton Archipelago by Jodi Stark, winner of Living Oceans Society's Way I See It contest.

My trip to the Broughton Archipelago was a short but powerful one. It was rich with experiences and learning and it really crystallized some ideas and perspectives, of which I’d like to share a few.

I have long believed that our way to healthy oceans is through the people in our coastal communities. The true stewards of the ocean are those who live there and interact most intimately with the surrounding sea. This has never been more evident to me than on this trip.

As someone who is quite knowledgeable about ocean issues, policy and management, I was humbled by the depth and layers of ‘real’ understanding of the place, its wildlife and issues by the people that call this place home. Below are just a few examples of these people who are doing what they can, in their own way, to protect their life support system.

I came home and was faced abruptly with the reality that the promises made by our government to include these people in management and conservation decisions are devastatingly hollow. The federal government recently pulled out of a funding arrangement to advance the PNCIMA process. This is wrong in so many ways, but after this trip, to me the part that was most offensive is the top-down decisions about our oceans coming from the Prime Minister’s office with a disregard for the people in coastal communities who have a lot more valuable contribution to marine-use decisions than most bureaucrats or politicians in Ottawa.


These are but some of the local ambassadors of the Broughton Archipelago whose work to help heal and protect the sea continues to inspire me:

Our Captain, Kevin Smith for years worked on the central coast "Great Bear Rainforest" land use plan, as well as working as a BC government steward of the marine parks of northern Vancouver Island. His first-hand accounts of the area and its wildlife and colourful characters were rich and personal.

Will Soltau came onboard as we anchored off Malcolm Island to tell us about his work with the Living Oceans Society. As a fisherman and coastal resident he has a great depth of understanding and respect for the ocean which he’s now using to fuel his salmon farming campaigns.

We stopped in at Billy Proctor’s Museum, and though he wasn’t
there, we got a glimpse into his life of collecting ocean gems and stories. After years of watching what overfishing, pollution and logging has done, Billy’s a conservationist and writer inspiring his museum visitors and readers.

The same bay as Billy’s Museum is where Alexandra Morton spent many years admiring and researching orcas and is where her organization, Raincoast Research Society is based. We didn’t have a chance to meet Alex but I saw her the following week testifying from the heart alongside Cath Stewart at the Cohen Commission.

We did get to meet Alex’s neighbour, Theda Pheonix who played us a song about social and environmental change and reminded us that artists play an important role in healing the ocean too.

I had a short visit with my friend Megan Baker before I headed out on the trip who is working for Straightwatch. Straitwatch educates boaters and coastal residents about marine species at risk, highlighting conservation issues and providing solutions to decrease impacts on marine mammals.

We visited the OrcaLab where Dr. Paul Spong and his dedicated volunteers have been studying orca vocalization for 40 years in the Broughton Archipelago. With underwater microphones, OrcaLab studies Orcas 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without interfering at all with the animals. They can identify distinct pods based on their dialects. This is the most unintrusive way to study and 'follow' the orcas, and with it Paul has made an contribution to the knowledge base and the scientific understanding of the whale populations.)

We didn’t get to meet Jackie Hildering, but I reveled in her photographs and stories when I got home when I met up with her at the Cohen Commission. The work that she does as the Marine Detective is key in sparking people’s interest and curiosity.

Jennifer Lash, the tireless founder and leader of Living Oceans Society, is another driving force for conservation in the region. Though we didn’t get to spend time with her on this trip, her continued commitment to ocean conservation in the region is strongly felt.

A warm thank you to all of these people who despite frustrations and set-backs in progress in marine conservation, continue to work in the best way they know how to heal our ocean. We can’t do it without them. Now…how do we make sure that Ottawa knows that?

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