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An open letter to Dr. Bonnie Henry

February 21, 2021

Dear Dr. Henry:

I cannot comprehend your on-going refusal to take any meaningful action about COVID-19 in British Columbia.

Under your direction and leadership, over 75,000 British Columbians have caught this virus.

More than 1300 British Columbians are dead.

On March 7th, 2020 – just under a year ago – you cried at a press conference after an outbreak at a long-term care home. At that point, you had still not taken any action at all to protect British Columbians from the virus (with a total of only 27 cases thus far detected here, keeping it out was still a possibility).

You cried. Even though no one had died yet!

And here we are, one year later. More than a thousand dead, and counting.

Your weak and vague guidelines (which some percentage of British Columbians continue to diligently follow, now on guidelines for one year – and which some percentage of the population does not think apply to them and have never followed and will never follow) have resulted in a year of:

  • economic devastation,
  • personal financial stress,
  • business closures,
  • undue mental and emotional stress for citizens,
  • as well as created a long-term financial burden that British Columbians will have to repay over years, if not decades.

And the worst part of that is that your weak and vague guidelines have not helped anyone or anything. You have only harmed us.

Your refusal to take any meaningful action is mind-boggling: You do understand the science, and you have many role models around the world where decisive action ahead of spread of the virus has limited or even stopped the spread of COVID19 and allowed citizens to return to somewhat normal life.

As examples, we have every one of Australia’s states, and countries like New Zealand, and our own Atlantic provinces.

(Caption to the graphic above: These are the data for new COVID cases in Australia for TODAY. The population of Australia is just under Canada’s at 25 million. Donuts mean NO NEW CASES in that state (yes, they are actually having fun with their stats!). HQ means a new COVID case in someone who was being monitored under Home Quarantine. So today, in Australia, there were ZERO new cases via community transmission, and a total of SIX new cases in people being monitored under Home Quarantine. Yes, a total of SIX new cases – in contrast to Canada’s average of around THREE THOUSAND new cases per day, and with the new variants unleashed here).

You have known all along what needs to be done. It is inexplicable why you have not taken action to protect the citizens of this province – who it is your duty, as our one and only Provincial Health Officer, to protect. It is inexplicable that you have allowed over one thousand to die (and countless to become “long-haulers,” changing their lives forever and also creating a long-term financial burden on our province).

But you have one more chance to do the right thing.

You understand that the spread of these new and more contagious variants will behave, in many ways, like the introduction of a completely new virus.

In the absence of a sufficient supply of vaccine at present, the B117 variant (which was first spread in our province because of ineffective “quarantine” procedures through infection of a traveller’s housemates), and possibly the other variants, are likely to soon become the dominant variant in our province. This has been shown by example in many other countries, and is also predicted by our own federal government’s modelling.

So here is your second chance, Dr. Henry.

You took no meaningful measures to protect British Columbians from the “first wave” or even the “second wave” (as our government focussed on getting re-elected rather than limiting virus spread over Thanksgiving).

Perhaps you have already have missed that opportunity with what is about to become our third wave, which will be driven by the spread of these new variants – now with at least 72 confirmed cases of the new, more contagious (and more lethal) variants in our province and likely community spread of those new variants.

But please, at least try!

You know what to do.

Lock down hard, and for real – for a short time. What some jurisdictions call the “circuit-breaker.”

This endless semi-lockdown is not helping anyone. Most of us have been doing it for a year now.

And those who aren’t, well, they never will – and they are the ones driving the spread, and keeping all of us in this horrible and interminable situation.

(As British Columbians continue to get sick and die).

It is time for you show some leadership and make those tough decisions.

I am confident that you know what must be done. You now need to do it.

Stop all travel. B117 is loose in Surrey, and probably elsewhere in our province too. Contain it!

Yes, it is horrible for the people living in regions which have a high case rate to have extra travel restrictions imposed – but everything about this virus is horrible. You needlessly allowed it out from Fraser this past fall, with lethal consequences for people in the north, the interior, and on the island.

Stop all travel – even between regions and communities – until we have curbed the transmission of every single variant (including the “original”). Many states and countries around the world have successfully slowed or stopped transmission by temporarily disallowing any travel – “any” travel meaning anyone being more than 5 km from their home. This harsh, but short-term, imposition is a far better option than this interminable and ineffective semi-lockdown, not to mention than allowing hundreds or even thousands more British Columbians to die.

Secondly, impose meaningful quarantine. “Isolation at home” is not quarantine – not unless no one else is entering that home for the whole period of that “isolation.”

You know that well. And you know that a failed “quarantine” is how the first known transmission of B117 occurred within our province. So do not allow that to happen any more. Any visitors (or residents returning) to British Columbia must undertake a 14 day supervised quarantine. Period.

The majority of British Columbians, who have given up all travel for a year now, must not be put at risk – nor should we be required to suffer this endless yet ineffective semi-lockdown, with all of its implications on our finances and on our mental health – for the sake of those few who choose to travel during a pandemic.

Finally, consider closing schools. For now.

You know very well that the phrase “There is no evidence that… (the infection can transmit from person to person, that asymptomatic people can transmit this virus, that the virus is airborne, that the virus can spread in schools)…” does not mean that this “thing” does not happen. It merely means that this is a NEW virus and we don’t actually know yet: we do not have the evidence either way.

There is, in fact, a lot of emerging evidence from around the world that transmission does indeed occur in schools, and that children may be vectors of spreading by bringing COVID-19 home. There is also emerging evidence from the UK that the new variant B117 has a higher attack rate in children than does the original “wild” variant. We already have B117 in our schools here in British Columbia.

Dr. Henry, you know what to do.

Your failure to act, for over a year now, has cost over one thousand lives. Time to practice what you preach: be brave.

Yours most sincerely,

Jacqueline Windh, PhD

How do we know if we are “due” for the Big One?

January 26, 2021

Today is our Earthquake Anniversary. Three hundred and twenty-one years ago, at 9pm, our last Big One hit the west coast of North America.

Every year, my blog post marking this anniversary (which I wrote back in 2010) gets a lot of attention. That article outlines both what scientists know about the Cascadia subduction zone as well as how we know it – and it talks about what to expect when our next giant earthquake-plus-tsunami event hits.

Pretty much every year, I get questions from readers about when, exactly, the next Big One is going to come, and whether we are “due” or “overdue” for it.

Predicting earthquakes is still not really possible – the best we can do right now is study when past ones occurred so we know how often they happen, on average, and calculate probabilities.

Last year, however, I made a new friend on Twitter: someone who has a lot of new information about this. Jay Patton is an Engineering Geologist at the California Geological Survey, Seismic Hazards Mapping, Tsunami Unit. Part of what he does there is figure out those earthquake recurrence intervals.

Jay retweeted my article about the earthquake anniversary, so I followed him. A few days later, he posted a really interesting map (reproduced below), which explains a lot about scientists’ current understanding of recurrence intervals of Cascadia subduction quakes. It comes from a paper that Jay is a co-author of (Goldfinger et a., 2017: Marine Geology, v. 384, pp 4-16, 17, 25-46), but he modified the map slightly for Twitter.

I was really intrigued by this map (my PhD is in structural geology, but I have been out of the research world for quite a few years) – so I asked Jay a few questions about it. This blog post is essentially an expansion of what he explained to me via Twitter.

Before I go there, though, I just want to get a few definitions and concepts out of the way – to make sure we are all on the same page. (If you are not clear about what a subduction zone is, and why ours is here, then please check out my earlier post first).

What is a fault?

A fault is any fracture in a body of rock along which there has been movement. That movement can be at any scale: from a few millimetres to thousands of kilometres. Most faults are no longer active (their last movement millions of years ago). Some faults are still active. That does not mean that they are moving this second, but it means that pressure is building up across them, and they will move again at some point.

What is fault displacement?

The displacement is how much a fault moves when it slips. Faults do not release all of their slippage at once – rather, they break periodically, slipping a little bit each time (each time it slips is one earthquake). The total displacement of a fault is the total amount the two sides have moved relative to one another over time. We also talk about the displacement during an individual earthquake event, which can be from millimetres up to several metres. (A displacement of metres all at once would generate a very large earthquake).

What is a recurrence interval?

The recurrence interval is how often a specific fault slips on average – in other words, how often there is an earthquake along it. Calculating the recurrence interval is one of the most challenging things for geologists to estimate, because we cannot predict an exact timing for that. That’s why recurrence intervals are expressed as averages and/or ranges and/or probabilities.

What is a fault rupture?

The rupture is the part of the fault that actually breaks. This is a super important concept to get, if you want to understand Jay’s’ map.

Let’s take a large fault zone like the Cascadia subduction zone, which is nearly 1000 km in length. It is possible that the whole fault zone might break at once. But it is also possible (and more likely) that only one section of the fault breaks. The whole fault is there and exists – but only one section of it slips in any one earthquake. The part of the fault that breaks, or slips, during one earthquake is the rupture length. The next earthquake may rupture along a different part of the fault.

Jay’s map covers the length of the Cascadia subduction zone:

The surface trace of the subduction zone lies offshore, extending from Vancouver Island down to northern California. It is basically the region shown in red.

The orange lines that Jay has drawn to the right of the map represent different possibilities for which parts of the fault might rupture. The yellow writing represents the recurrence interval for that fault segment. The recurrence interval is expressed both as an average (e.g., in the north, where I am, it breaks on average every 480-505 years) and also as a range (it can be as little as 110 years and as much as 1150 years).

So the line A represents the entire zone rupturing in a single (huge!) earthquake event. All of the other lines represent partial ruptures – only a portion of the fault breaking in any one event. (Which would still be a pretty big earthquake!).

However, what Jay explained to me, and what I find extremely interesting, is that the northern part of the fault zone behaves very differently from the southern part. Look at the southern segments: C, D and E. Their average recurrence intervals are very small (320 years or less) compared to the northern segments (average recurrence interval 434 years or more).

This is because the southern segments all share portions of the subduction zone when they slip during an earthquake. So the southernmost segment, E, might slip and cause a moderate earthquake. But if the next one to the north, D, slips, the fault will also slip along the segment E portion. For that reason, E slips more often – both on its own schedule and when D goes and triggers E.

Same thing for C: if it slips, it also slips in the same part of the fault as for segments D and E.

And B slips in the region of segments C, D and E. Therefore the earthquakes down at the south end are more frequent. As Jay puts it, “For most earthquakes, the southern part of the fault slips.”

In contrast, up in the north, segment F is doing its own thing. It mostly does not slip when the other parts of the fault slip (unless it is a total rupture along the entire length A). Earthquakes along segment F are therefore much less frequent – which means that they may be more powerful, because the stress across the fault is not being released as often.

So, what does that mean: are we “due” for the Big One or not?

Well, like we said, the last Big One was on January 26, 1700 – so 321 years ago. Here in the north, where I live (on Vancouver Island), these big earthquakes occur on average every 480 to 505 years. If earthquakes occurred like clockwork, right on time according to their averages, you might breathe a sigh of relief: “Phew, we have another 160 years!”

But that is not how they work! An average means just that – it is an average, with a 50% chance of the quake coming “early” and a 50% chance of it being “late.” Look at the range on Jay’s map: the quakes here in the north can be as little as 110 years apart (or as much as 1150 years apart). Looking at it that way, with our last Big One 321 years ago, we are most definitely within range.

So our Big One could come tonight – or it may be centuries away. We cannot predict when the next Cascadia subduction zone earthquake will happen, but we do know that it will definitely happen, and that it will be huge. This doesn’t mean that you should panic, but you should check in with your own community’s Emergency Preparedness program so you know how to prepare for it.

Jay Patton keeps track of earthquake reports around the world, and he also explains a lot of the more technical stuff on his site: you can find him here. And if you like what I have here on my site, or want to keep informed about my current exciting projects and adventures and speaking engagements, please sign up for an occasional email update on my Contact page. (Don’t worry, I respect your privacy and I will never spam you!)

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 4: The heli-lifting!

November 23, 2020

During Expedition 2 of the Marine Debris Removal Initiative this past September, we collected over 60 tonnes of debris from British Columbia’s shorelines. By the end of our first two weeks, hundreds of bulging white lift bags sat along the hundreds of kilometres of shoreline we had worked. Our final week would be the helicopter operations: slinging the bags on to a barge so we could get them out of there!

This post is the final instalment of my four-part series about working on the MDRI. Find the other ones here:

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 1: The project

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 2: The work

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 3: The nature of the debris

The barge was the Heiltsuk Horizon: operated by the Heiltsuk First Nation, towed by the tug Gulf Rival, all crewed by Lorne the captain (you can see him in the tug’s wheelhouse) and mate Robert (a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation, far left in the photo) as well as the deckhand Rudy, who was present for Expedition 1.

The helicopter was operated by Airspan Helicopters, out of Sechelt.

This is the pilot, Jason.

And this is the safety officer, Nolan, who worked with the helicopter from the barge.

We lost our first day of heli-ops due to fog. The helicopter couldn’t even make it in from Sechelt: Jason and Nolan had to overnight at a lighthouse partway up the coast!

Once the chopper got here, though, the work was pretty much non-stop: picking up the bags we had left on the shorelines and ferrying them back to the barge.

Upon their arrival, Jason and Nolan gave us a training session on the back of Cascadia – then all crews were sent to shore in pairs, back to our lift-bag sites, to work each lift. This short video shows my second lift ever!

Our days were super-long: we had to take advantage of every possible minute of flying time. So we were up eating breakfast before dawn, to get crews to the shorelines when it was still semi-dark. That way the helicopter could be up and flying to its first lift of the day immediately upon first light.

We rarely stopped during the day – other when the helicopter needed to pop back down on the barge for 20 minutes to refuel. And once when Jason just needed a break for half an hour. It was really impressive to see him do such focussed and precision work for so many hours of the day – I can’t imagine how challenging it must be to maintain that degree of concentration for so long.

Normally, we had left the debris bagged up on the shorelines. But sometimes, if there was not enough to fill a bag, or if it consisted of huge light items like styrofoam, we would bring it back to the ship. So we also did some lifting straight off of the back deck of Cascadia.

When you look at all of those lift-bags on the barge from a distance, it’s hard to tell what the magnitude of everything really is. They look almost like regular garbage bags. But this photo, of Nolan and Robert in front of the bins, gives a bit of an idea of scale. We ended up loading over 70 TONNES of debris onto the barge in under a week! For a total of 127 tonnes over the two expeditions.

Here’s a short video I put together that shows how our heli-lifting operatios worked:

NO BAG LEFT BEHIND! That became our motto.

We were fighting for daylight and flying time, but we were also fighting for weather: it was autumn, and a storm was on its way in. We didn’t actually know until the last day whether we really were going to achieve this or not. There was a definite cheer that went up when that final bag was lifted off of Cascadia!

The crew from Cascadia all headed over to the barge to celebrate! We climbed up on the piles of garbage (taking care to not fall down between them) for a celebratory group photo.

Here we all are! Now you can see the scale of what we did… a great photo by Jeff Reynolds (find him on Insta: @jkr_photo). Can you see us all down there, standing on top of the garbage at the back, in front of the helicopter?

And here’s Expedition Leader, Kevin Smith, whose brainchild this project was, on the deck of Cascadia in front of the fully loaded barge after the final lift. Pretty pleased, I’d say. (And probably relieved, too!)

It was such a thrill to be a part of the MDRI expedition. It was great for me personally: it took me to a part of British Columbia’s coast that I had not been to; I learned lots; and I made some very special new friends here. And it was great in many other ways too: keeping businesses occupied and people employed during these oh-so-challenging times of COVID, while also giving back to the environment and to the First Nations communities in whose territories these small-ship tour companies operate. A win on so many levels!

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 3: The nature of the debris

November 20, 2020

When we first arrived to work on Expedition 2 of the Marine Debris Removal Initiative (also referred to as the big BC Coastal Cleanup), many of us at first referred to it as a “garbage clean-up.” But Expedition Leader Kevin Smith pointed out to us that most of the stuff we were collecting would not be “garbage” – as in stuff that people had just thrown away. Debris really was the right word: debris washed away from businesses and boats and shorelines. (Photo of me, above, by Jeff Reynolds, Insta @jkr_photo)

This post is instalment 3 of 4 about my experience on the MDRI. Find the other ones here:

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 1: The project

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 2: The work

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 4: The heli-lifting!

As I mentioned in Post 2, all of the material was weighed going into the helicopter lift-bags. The reason was that the helicopter can only lift a maximum of 320 kg. We had to make sure that we didn’t make any one bag too heavy – and also, it would save time and money to know if some bags were so light (which they often were, with so much styrofoam and plastic) that the helicopter would be able to lift two or even three of them in a single run.

But a side-effect of this documentation of the material going into the bags was that we could record the nature of the debris.

At first, we worked as teams while loading the bags to estimate a rough percentage of the type of debris by class: plastic bottles, styrofoam, rope (general), fishing ropes and nets, fishing floats, etc.

It turned out that recording these estimates was really time-consuming, so we didn’t do that for the entire two weeks we were collecting, but we did it the first few days – so we still ended up with a pretty good idea of what the overall proportions were.

As long as a bag wasn’t overweight, we could tie stuff on the outside too. This worked especially well for stringing up strands of bulky fishing floats. (We didn’t even have to supply the rope – there was plenty around!) We would just chuck the floats down from the logs, then cart them over to site we’d chosen for our lift-bag.

We actually ended up transporting a lot of those floats back to Cascadia, rather than cart them to the garbage dump in Port Hardy (which is where all those helicopter lift bags were eventually going to end up).

That way, the MDRI could donate them for use to the various First Nations in whose territories we were working for use in their own fisheries. (Remember the 3 R’s – “re-use” is better than “recycle).

The ropes and nets, honestly, were horrible to deal with. They were abundant, they were everywhere, they were heavy, and they took hours to cut up.

It would often be a four- or five-person job, to unwind and chop up and remove each one.

Carrying them to the lift bags was tough, too – sometimes a single rope or net used up our full 320kg weight limit for a bag!

Some of the ropes and nets had been there for a long time, too – decades. You would see a little but of colour up above the driftwood logs – a bit of red or orange or turquoise – and then start following it up into the forest. And eventually you would find a whole giant net (or three) tangled up in decaying wood and overgrown by ferns and salal and other shrubbery.

We did, of course, also find lots of plastic drink bottles. By volume, they represented something like 10-20% of the total that we collected – which is a lot less than what I would have expected. A real lot of them were from elsewhere, mainly Asia. The bottle at the top left is Russian.

And we found a lot of just odd stuff too. Some shoes and sandals. A lot of just random foam – probably some of it insulation – as well as some very large items like different types of bins, broken boats and pieces of boats, and fridges and coolers. I think this syringe is the only one we found.

But by far, the bulk of what we found (like 70-80% of it) was debris discarded from the commercial fishing industry – and most of it from overseas.

We found a lot of crab floats like these, with ID tags on them indicating that they were from the USA: mainly Washington state and Oregon.

But most of the commercial fishing debris is from Asia.

Here’s a short video I put together : our Assistant Expedition Leader, Mike Jackson, explains from the deck of Cascadia where the debris came from, and what its impact is on the environment.

One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, right? Not so sure about that – we found a lot more garbage than treasure.

But I was fortunate to be the only person on our ship on Expedition 2 to find a glass ball – while I was digging way up under the salal, pulling plastic drink bottles out from under the moss.

I also kept this cute little float (Japanese?) as a souvenir.

This year, the organization of the MDRI was a huge challenge, and the learning curve by the organizers (led by Kevin Smith of Maple Leaf Adventures, below) was steep. Nothing like this had ever been done before – so a lot of it was figuring out things as we went along, or taking notes of things we would do differently next time.

This photo was taken at the end of Expedition 2, right after the final lift-bag had been dropped by helicopter on to the barge. (We were three weeks in by then – allowed to take off our masks!)

It’s hard to tell the scale of things – but there are over 70 tonnes of debris here on this barge (between the two expeditions, we collected a total of 127 tonnes!) One thing that we all felt terrible about on this first MDRI was that nearly everything we collected was going to a landfill. I know that organizers are already working hard to plan for future MDRI expeditions with an eye for figuring out how we can be more efficient, and especially how we can separate as much debris either for re-use or recycling as possible.

Read on for my final post in this series, BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 4: The heli-lifting! which explains (with some cool video!) how we got those 127 tonnes of debris collected on our BC Coastal Cleanup from the shorelines to the barge: the helicopter lifting operations,

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 2: The work

November 6, 2020

So what did we do out there? This post is part two of my four-part series about the BC Coastal Cleanup – more formally known as the Marine Debris Removal Initiative, which I took part in this past September.

This post is instalment two of four about my experience on the MDRI. Find the other ones here:

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 1: The project

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 3: The nature of the debris

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 4: The heli-lifting!

Post 3 will explain what we found out there – the nature of the marine debris – and Post 4 will show photos and video of our helicopter lifting operations, at the end of the expedition.

Mornings started pretty early. Most days breakfast was around 7am (socially distanced of course – for the first 14 days, meals were the only times we were allowed to remove our masks). Then we headed out in the skiffs – always with a pre-determined destination, but also always checking out the shorelines, to narrow down which of the MANY debris-ridden places we should focus our efforts on.

As mentioned in Post 1, the “beach” cleanup was really not on beaches at all… it was pretty much all rocky shoreline. But still, there are coves and curves in the coastlines which tend to gather the floating debris – everything from soft drink bottles to commercial fishing debris (lots of nets and rope, in addition to all the floats) to children’s toys and sandals and other miscellaneous garbage.

What we did was land at those rocky coves – some of them pretty protected from the ocean swell, and some of them pretty hairy with a lot of wave movement (and unfortunately, that’s when we tend to NOT have our cameras out) – in crews of three to five. We each grabbed some extra-tough garbage bags, and hauled stuff back to huge white lift-bags that would later be removed by helicopter.

This great time-lapse by Jeff Reynolds (Insta: @jkr_photo) shows the procedure.

Depending upon what we found there, we might be there for an hour or maybe for up to half a day. Any really large items – like strings of plastic floats, or hunks of styrofoam, were tied to the outside of the bags.

Sometimes we took a quick snack break on shore:

Sometimes we only had time to grab a quick snack in the skiff between sites (I did not do the Doritos – but I will tell you, the chefs treated us pretty well). That’s photographer Jeff on the right.

Everything was weighed going into the bags, and the total weight of each bag was recorded. We needed to know the exact (well, roughly exact) weights, because the final week of the expedition would be the heli-ops.

At the end of the expedition, each bag would be lifted onto a barge by helicopter, and the maximum the helicopter could reliably lift was 320 kg. (Post 4 will have some cool video of that!) If the bags were light, e.g. lots of styrofoam and plastic bottles, the helicopter would be able to lift two or even three bags at a time – a substantial cost saving compared to flying back and forth).

If there was just a bit too much to fit into the lift-bag – but not enough to justify a new lift-bag – we would haul the debris back to our skiff and take it back to the ship, to be picked up by helicopter straight off Cascadia’s deck later. This is a video – also by Jeff Reynolds – carting stuff down to the shoreline to be picked up in the skiff – that’s me in the turquoise shirt:

A lot of what we found was huge ropes and nets – all debris from the commercial fishing industry. Post 3 will talk more about that. Not only was this fishing debris the most abundant material we found, it was also the most time-consuming to deal with.

Huge and heavy ropes, some weighing 100s of kg, were tangled around and under the driftwood.

We cut them into pieces with little serrated kitchen knives to remove as much of them as possible – feeling terrible about the microplastics these materials were shedding (and which they would do, with or without our intervention).

Depending upon how challenging the site was (in terms for moving over the terrain, as well as how much time was spent digging and sawing up ropes and nets), each team would generally fill between one and three bags per site. We could usually hit two sites every morning and another two in the afternoon.

The bags were tied up and left as high up on the shoreline as possible – aiming to get them above the high high-tide mark (not always easy) so we could collect them by helicopter at the end of the expedition. More about that in Post 4!

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 1: The project

October 26, 2020

It’s been a tough year, with COVID disrupting pretty much everyone-in-the-world’s plans. I was supposed to be working as a naturalist/guide for Maple Leaf Adventures but, as for pretty much everyone else who works in tourism, my contracts were cancelled. However, MLA’s CEO, Kevin Smith, came up with a great idea: how about doing a big (socially-distanced) BC Coastal Cleanup!

Not only would it keep his ships running for at least part of the season and create work for many people who had lost their jobs – it would also give something back to the indigenous communities in whose territories his company (as well as several others) operate and, of course, make a positive impact on the environment.

The project came to be known as the Marine Debris Removal Initiative, or MDRI. It would operate as two three-week expeditions, each departing from northern Vancouver Island and working the shorelines to the north. The territories we worked in are those of the Kitasoo/Xai’Xais, Heiltsuk, Gitga’at, Wuikinuxv, and Nuxalk First Nations – who all contributed to and supported this initiative.

This post is instalment one of four about my experience on the MDRI. Find the other ones here:

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 2: The work

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 3: The nature of the debris

BC Coastal Cleanup MDRI Expedition 4: The heli-lifting!

I joined Expedition 2. Crew on each expedition would spend their first two weeks collecting the debris into big bags on the shorelines, and then the final week would be lifting those giant bags on to a barge by helicopter. Fun work!

Along with Maple Leaf Adventures, four other small-ship tourism companies signed on: Bluewater Adventures, Outer Shores Expeditions, Mothership Adventures, and Ocean Adventures, for a total of 9 ships making up the fleet.

In his proposal to the BC Government, which funded the project for a total of $3.5 million through their Clean Coast, Clean Waters Initiative Fund, Kevin estimated we’d maybe collect, say 30 tonnes of debris from the shorelines of BC’s central coast (outer islands of the famed Great Bear Rainforest). You’ll have to read through this four-part daily series (presented mainly as a photo album) to find out what we did and how much we ended up getting… but I’ll tell you now, we more than quadrupled his estimate!

I was assigned to MLA’s ship Cascadia, a 42 m catamaran, and by far the largest vessel of the MDRI fleet. In good times (meaning non-COVID tourism voyages), she is capable of carrying 24 passengers plus 10 crew. However, even though we had all been tested for COVID a few days prior to boarding, in order to enable adequate social distancing and allow all crew to have their own cabins, for this expedition Cascadia would only carry a total of 15.

In spite of all of us having been tested for COVID, we still took every precaution to keep every person safe seriously. After all, it was possible that someone had been exposed to the virus just prior to their test, or had contracted it in the few days between testing and boarding. A COVID case on any of the ships would likely mean that ship turning around and abandoning the expedition (not to mention pretty bad news, and possibly dangerous, for every crew member aboard).

So, for the first 14 days, we wore masks nearly all the time: at all times inside (except for meals, when we were seated six feet apart), as well as most of the time outdoors: on the deck, in the crew boats, and working near one another on shore. Our temperatures were taken every morning. We sanitized our hands practically every time we moved! And the common spaces were cleaned and sanitized – even using a specially purchased fogger to do carpets and furniture – several times a day.

And contact between ships just plain did not happen: each ship had to be its own bubble. Even when there was an evening Captain’s meeting, so they could plan which ship would work which areas and how they would communicate, this was done on the water: one Captain per zodiac, floating out in the open air (photo above).

What we were especially looking forward to, though, was that 14 day mark! Because then – having basically completed our 14 days of isolation – provided that no one had got sick, we could finally assume that our ships were COVID-free, take off our masks, and be a bit social with our shipmates!

All of the other ships in the fleet had zodiacs for their tenders. On Cascadia, being larger, we had two larger aluminum crew boats: more comfortable to ride in, but more difficult to approach the shorelines with.

I would soon find this out! This “beach” cleanup would really only be on beaches in the very loosest sense of the word – more accurately, they were rugged and rocky wave-dashed shorelines! I only set foot on sand once, the entire three weeks!

Ha ha, don’t be deceived by how calm it looks here! We always anchored in sheltered coves for the nights, and then motored out in the tenders to the exposed shorelines where the marine debris has washed up, leaping off the moving bow of the boat on to the slippery wave-washed rocks.

Stay tuned to see more pix of how it all went. The next instalment, MDRI 2 will show what the work we were doing was. Then MDRI 3 will show you what we collected, and MDRI 4 will have photos and video of the heli-lifting, very exciting!

You’re not going anywhere soon: Get a grippe

October 8, 2020

Still wondering whether to have the grandparents over for Thanksgiving?

Don’t wait for our government officials to give you the answers. You probably already know what to do: it’s just not what any of us want to face.

Our leaders in government have dropped the ball from the start. They claim that they are making the best decisions using the best science. In fact, they are juggling many competing factors, from industry pressure about the economy to thoughts about their popularity and the next election.

The science doesn’t factor into their advice as much as it should.

Although few were acknowledging it, the science was clear that this new coronavirus had already started to spread globally back in January, and that it could be transmitted between people who were asymptomatic (or nearly so):

Dave and I had already done all of our emergency shopping (no, not toilet paper – but many items that are imported and may become unavailable) by the first week of February.

Yet it would take our federal and provincial governments another six weeks before they acted in any meaningful way – or even warned people adequately.

Unfortunately, that was six weeks too late. COVID was already here, and spreading.

Today, our governments are still dropping the ball – some worse than others.

Ontario’s situation is perhaps most concerning. At the beginning of this week, the province was facing a backlog of some 80,000 pending test results. With testing centres closed on Monday as the province transitioned from walk-in testing to testing by appointment only, the backlog of real-time test results will only grow.

The best science requires the best and most current data. But Ontario’s backlog ensures that its scientists and politicians do not even have the data:

  • First, they no longer know how quickly the epidemic is growing, or even how many cases there are at present. Second, contact tracing, one of the key strategies that has been used so successfully to slow the epidemic abroad in countries including South Korea and Germany, becomes useless if contacts cannot be isolated or tested in time to keep them from spreading the virus.
  • Additionally, the backlog reduces the accuracy of the tests, since virus RNA in the samples degrades over time, potentially yielding false negatives.

But Ontario is not the only province with problems. In my town of Port Alberni, we received notice this week of the first ever COVID exposure at a school here on Vancouver Island.

Problem is, though, that that exposure happened back in mid-September. I have no idea why there was such a delay in notifying the public – but the result is that by the time potential contacts received it, their 14 day isolation period was alreadty over: they have either already spread COVID through our town, or not.

We will find out how that one plays out over the coming weeks.

Data mismanagement is an issue outside of Canada, too. It was revealed on Monday that the United Kingdom, currently in early stages of a rapidly growing second wave of an epidemic that has already killed over 42,000, had inadvertently under-reported new cases this week by a shocking 16,000 (due to basic misuse of an Excel spreadsheet!)

So how are we supposed to know what to do, if even our governments don’t know what’s going on?

The honest answer is that we don’t need to be told. We already know. Even if it’s not what we want to do, and not what we thought our life had in store for us.

Four things, very simple:

  • COVID19 is very contagious. It can be spread by people who look fine and feel fine. Masks help.
  • The greatest risk of transmission is indoors. So define your one small social bubble and take it seriously. Don’t have people in, and don’t go out.
  • Travel moves the virus between communities. Stay home.
  • And, perhaps toughest of all, find it in yourself to accept this. No, it is not what any of us want. But denial will not make it go away. This is what we must do.

For most of us, the COVID19 pandemic is the greatest crisis we have faced in our lifetimes. Over millennia, humans as a species have proven to be very resilient – although much of our current population has yet had to put that to the test.

Our ancestors did it, surviving years of quarantine from the bubonic plagues of Shakespeare’s time to the Spanish flu of a century ago, or surviving the hardships and rationing of two great wars this past century. Many others the world over are living in conditions far worse than this right now. We can do this too.

So, back to Thanksgiving. Stay at home. And tell your friends and extended family to stay at home too.

Don’t get your hopes up about Christmas, or even about next summer. We are in this for the long haul.

We can be strong and resilient too. The sooner we accept that, and find new ways to go about our lives, the easier it will be on all of us.

And the sooner this thing will be over.

Thanks for your interest! If you want to find out more about my thoughts, my projects and my books, please sign up on my Contacts page for a very occasional email update (no spam, I promise!). And did you get the pun in the title?

Warblers feeding fledglings in the park

August 1, 2020

bird photography warbler nuthatch woodpeckerJust over a week ago, Dave and I were drinking our morning coffee on the front balcony. We noticed some unusual bird activity in the park across the road: flashes of black and white on the tree trunks. So we took our coffees over there to see what was up. There were a whole pile of warblers over there – several different species. All of the activity was because there were fledglings, only a day or two out of their nests, up in the treetops, and the adults were scurrying around scooping up bugs to feed them.

So I went back for my camera. Warblers are very hard to photograph: they are typically high up in the trees, flitting behind leaves and branches, and they move very quickly. This was a photo opportunity at my doorstep!

Here are a few highlights. In addition to warblers (yellow, black-throated grey, and yellow-rumped) there were baby nuthatches and woodpeckers too, and a group of cedar waxwings also flew through.

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The yellow-rumped warblers were by far the most active: swooping low over the grass to flush flies, and probing cracks in the bark on the tree trunks to find spiders and other arthropods.

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The yellow-rumped warblers were fighting with the yellow warblers, all competing for the same territory. This guy gave me a funny look after one of those encounters.

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And this one was a treat – a warbler that is not exactly rare here, but you just don’t see them much: a black-throated grey warbler.

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Warblers were not the only ones with babies out: here is a ragged little downy woodpecker.

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And this little red-breasted nuthatch was just hanging’ around with his spider.

Quite an unexpected but very interesting couple of hours of avian interaction! Especially amazing that all of these guys must have been nesting right here, in front of my house – but they have been so quiet until now.

If you want to be in the loop about my projects and adventures, touch base with me over at my Contact page!

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On having a good camera. Or not.

January 29, 2020

thumbnail_IMG_20191215_152004So here’s something that really bugs me: I show someone one of my nature photographs and they say, “Wow, you must have a really good camera.” Or I finish a slide show presentation, and the first question is, “What kind of camera do you use?”

I mentioned a while back that I would put up a post with photos that I took on Dave’s phone. So here we go…

thumbnail_IMG_20200116_154157Honestly, these days, pretty much any camera – or phone! – is capable of taking a really good picture. Sure, sometimes I lug around 20 or whatever pounds of equipment. But, like they say, “It’s not the size of the boat, it’s the motion of the ocean.” Or something like that.

Yes, of course, if I am heading out for the purpose of photography, I lug the gear.

But if I’m out just for a training jog or something quick, I leave “the gear” behind. If I come across some stunning scene and I don’t have my camera (and of course I don’t carry my phone – I hate my phone!), then I grab Dave’s phone (it seems to be surgically attached).

That’s what this post is: examples of photos I have taken, not with some amazing camera gear, but with Dave’s phone.

These are straight out of the camera, not touched up with Photoshop or anything. And I’ve loaded them up full-size, so you can click on them to see them larger.

Having an amazing camera, with quality glass and a range of lenses, not to mention extras such as a tripod, can give you many additional options. But on the other hand, travelling light – and not having to use up precious time while that gorgeous light changes on you as you are trying to set everything up – can give you a lot of options too.

thumbnail_IMG_20190727_122503_BokehThe real key, no matter what gear you have, is knowing how to work it.

Remember: the word “photography” is photo (light) and graph (painting/drawing). Photography is painting with light.

If you pay attention to the light, and devote a little bit of thought to sharpness (hold the camera or phone still, and manually focus it on the actual thing you are trying to photograph, like this wild orchid and not the background), you can get amazing photos just from a simple camera or a phone.

So – click on these pix, check them out full-size, and tell me what you think!

And, by the way – I have lots of cool projects on this year. If you want to receive an occasional update about my exciting adventures and projects, head over to my Contacts page and drop me a line. (Don’t worry, I will never share your info or spam you).

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A snowy week for the hummingbirds

January 17, 2020

L-8790I have been working on my Anna’s hummingbird photography project for six years – which is when the first Anna’s hummingbirds appeared on my property. They used to be natives only to sub-tropical climes – mainly Southern California and Mexico – but in recent years they have been expanding their range in western Canada, especially on Vancouver Island.

Being a wildlife photographer just means that you have to drop whatever else you are doing, if the timing is right: the orchids are blooming or the salmon or swimming or the leaves are changing colour. So this week it was the #BCstorm blizzard – and I have hummingbirds hanging around the house.

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Fortunately I could do a lot of the photography right from my balconies. My hummingbirds know me – well some of them do – and I know who is likely to perch when, where.

So here are a few of the shots that I got this past week. That’s Squeaky Jr. up top, and Rosetta in the middle. And below, a little video clip of Flathead buzzing up as kids toboggan down the hill in the background. Look up, people!

Are you interested in what I do? Then sign up for occasional email updates about my projects and my speaking events on my contacts page (Don’t worry, I will never share your info or spam you!)