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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Overlooked Species Theatre presents: Eelgrass

Carrie Robb is the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist at Living Oceans.

Eelgrass perhaps doesn’t really qualify as overlooked.  Its importance as a nursery for fish, a feeding ground for birds, a shoreline stabilizer and a water filtration system has been widely acknowledged by researchers and marine planning processes alike.  Here in British Columbia, the Marine Planning Partnership for the North Pacific Coast planning process includes eelgrass beds as an important ecological feature.

However, for the past few years eelgrass has been getting an increasing amount of attention for its role in the battle against climate change and ocean acidification.  Terrestrial forests have long been known as important carbon sinks but marine habitats, such as eelgrass beds and coastal wetlands, are now gaining in prominence.  Known as ‘blue carbon’, the importance of these habitats has been highlighted in the just released Ocean Health Index, as well as reports from a diverse array of organizations, including the Sierra Club of BC, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the World Bank, who suggests that blue carbon should be better incorporated into the international conversation on climate change, perhaps in a manner similar to the REDD program for forests.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wednesday videos: Why our coast is amazing!

It's Wednesday, so instead of putting up anything long and tedious for you to read (or more likely, not read), I figured some videos were in order.  And what awesome videos they are! In keeping with the photos from Caamano Sound I shared with you a couple of weeks ago, these two videos highlight just how amazing our coast and inland aquatic habitats really are.

The first is from northern Vancouver Island's own diver, whale researcher and naturalist extraordinaire - the Marine Detective. I love this video because it brilliantly illustrates the rich and diverse sea life that we are so very fortunate to have on this coast.

This video originally appeared on The Marine Detective blog, which you can see here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Refinery in Kitimat?

Karen Wristen is Living Oceans' Executive Director.

David Black's trial balloon took us a bit by surprise on Friday; there had been no previous indication that anyone seriously intended building a refinery in Kitimat. Once we heard from Mr. Black, it became clear that he's floating an idea with the greatest of good intent, but without a business case or a clear environmental rationale.

With all due respect to Mr. Black's business acumen, by his own admission he lacks experience in the oil patch. He also says he has had little to do with Enbridge and its financing arrangements. If he had investigated with them, he'd know that the refinery idea is a non-starter for the Chinese financiers.

Anacortes Refinery [photo: Walter Siegmund]

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Make us hungry - we want your pictures of tasty seafood!

Yvonne Etzkorn is the Donor Relations Coordinator at Living Oceans, who is very happy that it's sunny and that she won't have to hibernate through the summer this year.

I was having trouble starting this blog post so I thought I’d look back over last year’s posts for inspiration.  According to my 2011 posts, last year had a cold and miserable summer. After reading those posts I realized all the inspiration I needed was right outside my window.

The view from my office window. Are you jealous?

The sunshine, the sparkling blue ocean, mountains in the background, clouds in the sky; I realized this is what we’re trying to capture in our 3rd annual Ocean Exposures photo contest. Well…not this picture exactly (we’d really like more ocean and less houses and telephone wires), but rather that feeling, the sense of wonder and general delight that being near the ocean invokes.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Last in a series of posts by Living Oceans Executive Director Karen Wristen, as she and her husband Jasper sail their 40' Newporter Viajador from Bowen Island to Sointula.

Day 5: Kelsey Bay to Sointula

With the weather forecast promising gale to storm-force winds for the balance of the week and the chart-plotter studiously refusing to work, we elected to cut short our plan to visit several of the smaller marinas in the Broughtons to make presentations on the Enbridge pipeline and tanker project. It seemed a better idea to get ourselves in to Sointula and out of the weather; we can always visit those marinas on short trips from our new home base as the weather permits.

Winds were variable, but the seas relatively calm as we motored our way up Johnstone Strait. All the wind directly on the nose, of course, so no chance of setting sail.

We saw porpoise a couple of times and I caught this fabulous shot on the fly:

No orcas; no seals. Lots of dark-coloured sea-birds on dark-coloured water; on the whole, the boats we saw made the best subjects for today's photos.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Wildlife Back on the Job

Fourth in a series of blog posts by Executive Director Karen Wristen as she and her husband Jasper sail their 40' Newporter sailboat “Viajador” north to Sointula.

Day four: Campbell River to Kelsey Bay 

Hah! That worked. Anyone who headed to Kelsey Bay today would have enjoyed watching transient Orcas pass by. They failed to escape my notice at the north end of Discovery Passage, although they were traveling so fast that they did escape my camera! In the lead were 5 adults, rising and blowing with a precision that would have put the synchronized swim team to shame. They were followed by two adults and a calf, with the calf nestled right against the side of one of the adults.

We also saw porpoise, briefly surfacing twice in Johnstone Strait; on both occasions, their dives were followed immediately by leaping sockeye, looking for all the world as if they were trying to swim through the air.

Our day got off to an interesting start when the chart plotter decided to pack it in at the dock at Campbell River. The same chart plotter that just came back from being tested at Siemens, because it's done this to us before, and was pronounced healthy. It's not as if you really need the device to get from Campbell River to Sointula — there's just not much chance of getting lost—but it is a comfort to have the depth soundings if you're going to explore any of the smaller channels, or if the weather comes up and you need to tuck in somewhere where you don't know what the bottom is like.

And the weather did 'come up' some, during this leg of the journey!

Chatham Point Light Station
It wasn't so bad rounding the corner at Chatham Point; it just got really cold quite suddenly, sending me scurrying for the winter sweater and windbreaker. The wind was maybe 15 knots and the sea unremarkable. It was only a little later, as our heading became more westerly, that the going got seriously rough—the wind rose to 20-25, making the rigging sing with that "you're really at sea now!" sound, while the waves rose to a meter and a half at times. Strangely (and happily) at the same time, the temperature rose dramatically.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Blame the Orcas

Third in a series of blog posts by Executive Director Karen Wristen as she and her husband Jasper sail their 40’ Newporter sailboat “Viajador” north to Sointula.

Day three: Lund to Campbell River

So, the word on the dock in Lund is that the orcas were through yesterday, which accounts for the scarcity of marine life on view:  everyone's hiding.

This business about the orcas coming through the day before I get to a place has come up often enough now that, in the interests of whale watchers everywhere, I have decided to announce my travel plans in advance.  Anyone out there looking for orcas should head to Kelsey Bay on Saturday.

Our crossing from Lund to Campbell River started with promise:  there was a strong wind warning in effect, meaning enough wind to really get some speed out of Viajador.  It was blowing northwest again, so of course we had to motor out of Lund and past the islands before taking a more westerly heading that would enable us to set sail.  Then, of course, the wind died altogether.  We motored to Campbell River.

En route, we checked out Mitelnatch Island, a nesting area for Pelgic cormorants, Seagulls and Guillemot.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Wind on the Beak

Second in a series of blog posts by Executive Director Karen Wristen as she and her husband Jasper sail their 40’ Newporter sailboat “Viajador” north to Sointula.

Day two:  Pender Harbour to Lund

Thursday was a very fine day for anyone sailing south or east or even southwest.  We are of course going northwest, precisely the direction from which a brisk, warm wind blew all day.  This is why we chose a motor sailor for our travels through the Inside Passage and today, Viajador was a motor boat all day.  The sun was back with us as we motored along the length of Texada Island through Malaspina Strait.

At least the seas were a good deal calmer than yesterday, so the stowed goods stayed that way and I was able to fire up the computer and get some work done.  Marine life was still slacking, however; we saw the odd seal and possibly a sea lion hitchhiking on a distant log boom.   Even the gulls were inclined to ride rather than fly.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Day our Flashlight Learned to Fly

First in a series of blog posts by Living Oceans Executive Director Karen Wristen, as she and her husband Jasper sail their 40’ Newporter sailboat “Viajador” north to Sointula.

Day one:  Bowen to Pender Harbour, “The Day our Flashlight Learned to Fly”

Some old salts may tell you that leaving port in a southeast wind is courting trouble.  But if you’re headed northwest and your boat weighs a lot, like our old wooden beauty, a southeast wind means you can hope to make some way under sail.  The weather forecasters were promising 10-15 knots rising to 20-25 as we left Snug Cove on Bowen Island this morning.

Like so many predictions, this one amounted to hot air.

We had the seas that go with winds that strong, all right; easily a metre, breaking waves on our hind end all day long, cockpit awash and spray coming over everything.  But the wind got up to no more than 10 knots at any point, leaving us wallowing madly under sail. 

It’s a bit disconcerting, when you’ve come to appreciate the basically inert qualities of your boat’s kit, to find them airbourne.  I found it challenging, trying to refine a fundraising proposal with Stephanie by phone, when a 2-lb flashlight that has lived comfortably on a shelf for six years suddenly decided to learn to fly.  At some point during the day, every locker on the boat opened itself and spewed some contents.

When I wasn’t picking up behind liberated lockers, I was scanning for great pictures of the voyage to share with you.  Evidently, marine birds and mammals had the day off.  Maybe they were just smarter than we mariners and stayed in port.

Grey skies opened for a moment to bathe the Merry Island Light Station in cheerful colour

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Unprotected salmon farming - Blame it on the wild salmon

Will Soltau is Sustainable Fisheries and Salmon Farming Campaign Manager for Living Oceans Society.

“Virus detected at fish farm.” It seems like that headline is popping up in the news more often these days. Is it because of heightened awareness of salmon pathogens in the media or is it because of something different happening in the ocean?

One example is the infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus - IHNv for short. It has been in the headlines a lot recently. The science says it's an endemic pathogen native to Pacific salmon - so common it is also known as sockeye disease. Atlantic salmon on the other hand, are very susceptible to IHNv. They have no natural immunity and past outbreaks in British Columbia farmed salmon have resulted in disastrous losses. Salmon farmers say they have learned lessons and now practice better husbandry at their operations.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Photos from the coast: the good, the bad and the hopeful

Unless you've been hiding out under a rock in a cave on the dark side of the moon, humming to yourself really loudly with your fingers in you ears, you've probably picked up on a bit of the recent media frenzy over the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline and associated tanker route through some of B.C.'s most treacherous waters.

Wow, that was a long sentence. But that doesn't make it any less true.

The controversy over the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines Project, which could see as many as 320 supertankers visit the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest every year, has surfaced in the media to varying degrees over the past couple of years. But coverage of this proposed development really kicked into high gear last week when B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced that she was taking a long-awaited stand on the project by laying out a list of five requirements the project would need to meet in order for the B.C. government to support it. Well... sort of.

In fact, the first four requirements laid out by the premier are measures that are either already required or will do nothing to safeguard the B.C. coast. The only relevant demand that Premier Clark outlined was the requirement for B.C. to receive it's "fair share" of the profits from this project. Putting aside the legal and constitutional can of worms that this opens, the Premier is saying basically this: If the price is right, we are willing to accept the admittedly grave risk that the Northern Gateway Pipelines Project presents to the B.C. coast.