Trashing the sea we call home

Commentary by Mark Hume

Rose Spit on The Queen Charlotte Islands - Photo by Nick Didlick

The sea is ice blue. The sea is green. Light falls on the water through storm clouds turning it as gray as steel. Waves hit the shore and when the water runs back into itself, beach stones rattle and jump.
A bright orange crab carapace, shucked in a growth spurt, spins in the current. When it turns over it reveals a smooth inner surface that is bright purple. Long tendrils of eel grass curl around it, as if making a nest, then another wave hits and all is obliterated in a foam of white water.

The waves have a cadence as steady and soothing as a Benedictine chant. But you cannot breath in time with the waves, nor match your stride to them. The sea has a rhythm all its own. And yet, as you walk along the shore, the ocean becomes part of you. It vibrates your internal ear and charges the air that fills your lungs. It penetrates the cornea, changing light, setting treasures before you on the sand (a whorled hermit crab shell, a piece of driftwood that looks like a serpent’s eye, a white rock as smooth as a sparrow’s egg) and then drawing them back with the next wave. Back into the unknowable mystery of the endless sea.

Geographers say there are four oceans in the world, and more than twice as many seas, but really there is just one, for they are all linked, by sea straits and rain and the dreams of explorers. The Pacific, which separates Asia from the Americas, joins the Arctic Ocean in the north and merges with the Atlantic and Indian Oceans to the south and east. Chinese junks have washed ashore on the West Coast of Canada, as have great white sharks and giant sunfish from the tropics.

The coastline of British Columbia looking at Bute Inlet - Photo by Nick Didlick

Along the ragged coast of British Columbia the world’s great ocean passes into a series of deep fjords, inlets, bays and straits, where the blue water is back dropped by green rain forest. Between Vancouver Island and the mainland coast lies one of the richest and most beautiful stretches of ocean on the planet. It is called the Strait of Georgia on most maps, but earlier it was named the Salish Sea by the Sechelt people and for many that name has come back into use.

Whatever you call it, it is a rare, confined slice of a vast ocean network: an inland sea. And it is what shapes life on the West Coast more than any other aspect of nature.

A tiny fish in a shell - Photo by Mark Hume

Several million people are clustered around its shores. We use its waters as a transportation corridor, linking our ports to the ports of the world. We use it to haul log booms and other coastal freight, we fish in it for salmon, cod, herring and even krill. We sail on it, swim in it and wherever possible situate our buildings so that we can bathe in the light that reflects off it.

For all our dependance on the land, we are an oceanic culture.
And despite all that we pollute the sea, including with waste from fish farms, and over-harvest some of its resources, driving stocks of salmon, ling cod and abalone to endangered levels; stripping shorelines of aquatic vegetation with caustic industrial waste and making Vancouver’s beaches unhealthy at times with sewage

As our population grows, living with the sea becomes an increasing challenge. In other places, the Sea of Cortez, the Gulf of Mexico, people are killing the waters that they love.

Will we learn from their mistakes? Or will we follow in their footsteps, incrementally degrading the Strait of Georgia without meaning to?
It is worth thinking about the next time you walk the shore line, listening to the wash of waves, and wondering at the ever shifting beauty of the sea.