In the Gulf Islands, the sea is a big part of our lives, but what lies underneath the waves is largely unknown. While paddling a kayak and logging GPS coordinates along the east coast of Pender Island, I realized citizen scientists are helping shed light on this mystery. I was part of a dozen volunteers measuring the extent of kelp forests. Along with fellow “scientists” on Mayne, Saturna and Galiano Islands, we were helping determine the health of the Salish Sea, a productive ecosystem rich with marine life.
Citizen science — the term was only coined in the mid-1990s — allows scientists to greatly expand their shrinking budgets, and also makes science
accessible to the public. Ubiquitous cell phones with their wide range of apps can be powerful tools in the hands of ordinary citizens. For example, database apps such as iNaturalist and Zooniverse allow a wide range of observations to be recorded and shared. It’s easy to become a volunteer, and it’s great to feel like a scientist!
The Saturna Island Marine Research & Education Society (SIMRES), led by Martin Wale, uses four hydrophones to monitor whales and link into BC’s coastal network as well as attracting university researchers. Mapping of kelp beds and other projects are also conducted. It’s rewarding to attend SEATALKS (Saturna Environmental Awareness Talks) where experts make first-class presentations about the marine environment.
On Galiano Island, Andrew Simon, an expert on lichens and mosses, is the driving force behind Biodiversity Galiano, which started in 2016 with more than 200 contributors combing the island to list every living species. By 2020, more than 3,500 had been recorded. Andrew pointed to tiny three-ranked knob moss at Bluff Park, the only spot in Canada where this species is found. Galiano also boasts a huge ecopark, the Millard Learning Centre with 188 acres bordering the ocean. The Park, run by the Galiano Conservancy Association has hiking trails, an organic garden, solar panels and more.
Rob Underhill is the lead for citizen science on Mayne Island.
Sophisticated eel grass studies have been conducted since 2009. Underhill also coordinates the bull kelp mapping around Mayne and neighbouring islands. Both eel grass and bull kelp are major habitats for marine life. The Mayne Island Conservancy conducts bat surveys, habitat restoration and more.
In June 2017, Pender Island was abuzz with a BioBlitz, a one-day nature extravaganza. Scientists, Parks Canada interpreters and the public worked together to spot as many species as possible. People scooped in the lake with nets. Divers roamed underwater bringing back sea stars, sculpins, gunnels and sea cucumbers. People crowded around information stations with displays and microscopes. The night
expedition showed glorious bioluminescence in the sea. Young people — and even older folk — enjoyed learning about the fascinating complexity of nature.
With cases surging and lockdowns getting ever stricter, everyone is anxious about Covid-19. There is, however, a surprisingly easy way to relax, to soothe the mind and to forget all those cares, while self-isolating and keeping safe at the same time.
Forest bathing, also known as nature therapy or ecotherapy, is the answer. And on the southern Gulf Islands, where we’re surrounded by majestic seascapes and stunning rainforests, it’s easy to do. Pender Island, for example, has more than 90 trails that lead to delightful natural habitats where you can unwind in peace.
For centuries, we’ve known that being in nature makes us feel good, yet it has become a forgotten practice — immersed in an urban culture, typical North American spend 93% of their time indoors.
To get away, I frequently go for a quiet stroll up to Roe Lake, located in a charming isolated part of Pender Island, where I enjoy the whispering of the wind in the branches, the scent of the trees, the fresh, invigorating air and sunlight dappling through the leaves. It feels like I’ve been transported to a planet of pleasure and contentment.
Last week on a misty day, I hiked the Found Road trail off Clam Bay Road, following a long boardwalk glistening with rain droplets, past ghost-like alders and then to a
large granite boulder partially encased in bright green moss and dark root tentacles. An erratic, the boulder was brought here by glaciers from some faraway place. A wooden staircase led to a beach looking over Plumper Sound where I sat on one of the bleached logs encircling the high tide mark like a necklace. Listening to the gentle back and forth swoosh of waves, my cares and worries disappeared.
Numerous studies have shown that even small amounts of forest bathing, that is, connecting with nature through all five senses, make us feel better and improves our health. I often go to Gowlland Point or hike up to Oaks Bluff or visit Greenburn Lake where I love sitting in solitude, listening to birds singing, the breeze rustling in the trees and try to distinguish the myriad different greens,
like notes of a symphony, playing through the forest. Placing my hands on the trunk of a tree, I feel far removed from the tensions that are gripping the world. I am experiencing a sixth sense, a peaceful state of mind. I am one with nature.
It was like being transported back to pioneer days. Apples arrived in boxes and containers, some so heavy they could barely be carried. Under a blue sky on October 31, people — all wearing covid masks — took turns manually cranking the press to make apple juice pour out the bottom. Others peeled and cut apples, which were cooked to make sauce and then placed in jars and processed in a pressure cooker. Others used a rotating device to slice apples and then placed the thin, round apple pieces in a dehydrator. This was the inaugural “Let No Apple be Wasted” apple preservation workshop at the Pender Island Community Hall.
Organized by the Southern Gulf Islands Community Resource Centre and the Gulf Islands Food Coop, the purpose was to teach islanders how to use the press, dehydrator and pressure cooker to transform the bumper crop of apples into sauce, juice and dehydrated apple slices that will be enjoyed over the coming winter. About 500 pounds of apples arrived from trees scattered all over the island.
Like in olden days, it was a communal effort with everyone pitching in and sharing the juicer, pressure cooker and dehydrator. And it was fun! We worked together, chatted, joked and gossiped. By the end of the sunny afternoon, the apples had transformed into numerous litres of juice, many jars of apple sauce and slices of dehydrated apples, which were distributed to those who brought the apples, shared with other participants and used to help fill the CRC Christmas hamper. Even local sheep and horses were smiling, for they received the remaining apples. Farmers used the apple mash from the juicer for compost.
Similar workshops were successfully held on Mayne Island on October 6, where the products were donated to the food bank, and Saturna Island on September 19, where about a dozen people took part. On all three islands, the Gulf Islands Food Coop purchased the ten-rack dehydrators and pressure cookers with the goal of holding annual apple work bees in the future, and so people could borrow the (communal) equipment at other times.
As one participant said, “What an enjoyable day! I’m so glad they’re bringing back heritage activities like this; they really work. And nothing tastes bet ter than local food.”
Video of Pender Island’s workshop:
Video of Saturna Island’s workshop: https://gulfislandsfoodco-op.org/apple-workshops/
What better place to visit in the middle of a pandemic than Saturna Island? It is like an isle forgotten and with only 370 inhabitants it’s easy to self-isolate. Ferry access is infrequent and many conveniences like banks and Starbucks are completely missing. I explored this island-onto-itself on a sunny summer day on my trusty 49-cc scooter.
I almost missed the “business centre,” barely more than a crossroads with a general store where old-timers sit on the porch, a recycling depot, fire hall, a smattering of residences and a large recreation centre.
Next, East Point drew me. A heritage lighthouse — built in 1889 but now converted to a museum — looked over the quintessential Salish Sea with tidal waters churning over Boiling Reef, attracting endless wildlife from sea lions and seals to humpback and orca whales to a myriad of birds. A bald eagle perched high on the weather station beside the new lighthouse, its head slowly swiveling back and forth, patiently watching. The shoreline is a dreamscape of honeycombs and alien, yet beautiful, shapes for erosion has carved the most unusual rock sculptures.
Saturna has more park land per capita than any other Gulf Island, with almost half the island part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve
For such a small island, Saturna hosts surprisingly advanced research. SIMRES, which stands for Saturna Island Marine Research & Education Society, uses a small network of underwater hydrophones to monitor the sounds of passing whales. It also hosts a series of popular sea talks given by experts on marine science and ecology.
Later, my scooter bumped up the steep dirt road to the top of Mount Warburton Pike where I gazed upon a feast of islands dotting the Salish Sea. Although I heard the bleating of the famous feral goats, none appeared. Soon my scooter took me down a steep road to the Feral Goat Winery, which is under new ownership, and Thompson Park with a disc golf course.
I back tracked to Winter Cove a serene spot that every Canada Day hosts one of the most unusual celebrations in the country. The population of the island more than triples as an enormous flotilla packs into the cove. About 30 lambs are roasted on tall iron crosses like crucifixes set in a circle around a blazing fire. The sight is pagan, but the result is mouth-watering. The event, which features a band, craft fair, dunk tank and contests for children and adults, is a true community effort with virtually every person on the island contributing.
Tired and sun burnt, I bumped onto the ferry, sorry to leave this glorious solitude.
I’m fighting the Covid blues by exploring each of the southern Gulf Islands on a 49-cc scooter. Last week, I puttered around Galiano Island, reveling in empty roads, great ocean vistas, friendly locals and the amazing natural beauty of this long, narrow isle, all under a blue, sunny sky. After gassing up (only $2.75!!!), I bumped over an unpaved road to Bluffs Park, which offers outstanding views over Active Pass and numerous islands gracing the Salish Sea. Andrew Simon, organizer of Biodiversity Galiano, showed me some three-ranked knob moss, whose only Canadian locale is here on this bluff.
Next, I passed the highly regarded Pilgrimme Restaurant (open for takeout and dine-in) and arrived at Montague Harbour, one of the most popular — and prettiest — boating spots in the province. I lazed and caught a few rays while watching sailboats dancing on the waves, kayaks paddling past and a lone SUP silhouetted against distant blue ranges.
Leaving, a gorgeous blue dragonfly, hitched a ride on my arm, and I had a heck of a time snapping a selfie of us at 40 km/hr. On the long ride to the north end, I stopped at the Millard Learning Centre, where the Galiano Conservancy runs numerous teaching programs that demonstrate the vast biodiversity of the island on a stunning site with old growth forest, hiking trails, glorious ocean front and much more.
A few kilometres later, I admired the creative, colourful glass sculptures at Marcia DeVicque Glassworks, one of a multitude of artisan galleries. Pulling into a small cove, I marveled at sandstone rocks eroded into intricate honeycomb sculptures. Most unusually, even a few caves had formed with cool smooth walls.
Arriving at the north end of Galiano, I was told the residents are quite different in character from those at the other end. Isolation is part of the charm, for although the north has its own community hall and fire department, there are no shops nor a gas station.
On the long putt-putt back to the south end, I stopped at Lovers Leap, where a musician played his guitar while enjoying the hot day, vast blue sky and the high view across to Salt Spring Island.
After a socially-distanced burger and pint at the Hummingbird Pub, I headed for the ferry, sad to be leaving this treasure of an island.
Feeling like Easy Rider, I bumped off the Queen of Cumberland at Village Bay, Mayne Island, on my “hog.” OK, it was only a 50cc scooter, but perfect for exploring the 21-sq-km island with its sinuous roads.
A short ride led to Felix Jack Park where a carved, cedar Welcome Figure towered, announcing this isle was initially home to the Tsartlip First Nation.
At Miners Bay I viewed the Agricultural Hall (established 1900), a central hub of the community and the site of the thriving Saturday Farmers Market. The Springwater Lodge (established 1892), the oldest continuously operating pub in the province, beckoned, and soon I was quaffing an ale on the deck while ferries sounded deep throaty warnings in Active Pass. Initially, the Lodge served the men rowing from Victoria to the mainland for the gold rush. Occasionally joined by smugglers and cattle rustlers, they partied so hard the Lodge became known as “Little Hell.” Little wonder the first gaol in the Gulf Islands, now converted into a museum, was built in 1896 just up the street.
My scooter carried me to the nearby St. Mary Magdalene Church (1897). The dates on the tombstones in the quiet cemetery confirmed this to be another historic site.
At Georgina Point I lay on smooth, sculpted sandstone soaking up the sunshine while admiring the Active Pass Lighthouse (1884), one of the prettiest on the west coast.
Riding through Douglas fir and arbutus forest, past roadside stands and farmers’ fields, took me to Bennett Bay National Park. I hiked to Campbell Point where kayaks bobbed in the glistening waves. I learned that Mayne is blessed with hiking trails offering glorious views of seashore and forest, here and at Mt. Parke and St. John Point parks.
At the elegant Japanese Gardens, I sat in the meditation pavilion, reflecting on the sad time during World War II when the island’s Japanese, who formed a third of the population, were removed to internment camps, their farms and possessions confiscated and never returned. In 2002, the islanders built this Garden to honour these early neighbours.
Next, I stopped at the Mayne Island Brewery and sampled a Forager Ale, made from whatever the owners discover in the forest. Refreshing!
As the ferry pulled out from the dock, I was happy. I had discovered that Mayne Island is indeed a jewel of the southern Gulf Islands with fascinating history and rich nature.
During this covid isolation I’m enjoying spending time in nature. Bays, coves and headlands, that fascinating transition between land and the sea, fascinate me. On Pender and the other southern Gulf Islands, the shores are seldom covered in glistening white sand. Instead, rocky outcrops abound, rows of bleached logs mark the high-tide line and many lifeforms skitter here and there. It’s wonderful.
I have to tread carefully for the shoreline usually is composed of rock, sometimes conglomerations of rounded stones, sometimes like rows of cogs in a factory assembly line, other times grey sandstone with beautiful whorls and patterns created by erosion.
These sedimentary rocks were laid down about 70 million years ago in a basin. The collision of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates, which is still ongoing, subsequently folded, faulted and contorted the sedimentary layers into the island archipelago we see today.
The seashore is blessed with a cornucopia of life. The broad-leaved stonecrop with its yellow flower perches precariously on rocky cliffs. The brilliant orange of California poppies brightens many locales. I enjoy sitting beside them with a grand vista before me. Down below, the shallow water embraces many seaweeds, but I’m attracted to sea lettuce, which is delicious in salads. The mighty bull kelp is often washed up, looking like a long python coiled among the rocks.
The intertidal zone is alive with movement. Herons poise in inches deep water patiently waiting. Gulls screech overhead. Every lifted rock reveals skittering crabs. And in secret places I dig for clams and harvest oysters.
Many coves provide glimpses into the activity of humans in past times. White beaches and layers of broken clam shells (middens) show that Coast Salish First Nations have lived in this area for millennia.
A factory at Bricky Bay on Pender Island manufactured bricks from 1910 to 1920. Many still remain, transforming the beach into a red colour.
Another favourite spot is Georgina Point on Mayne Island with its lighthouse guarding the eastern entrance to Active Pass. The grey sandstone along the water’s edge is like an art gallery with fascinating whorls and pits like alien eyes and faces.
Driftwood logs fascinate me. I can sit for hours on one of the sun-warmed logs that form a wooden necklaces for coves, admiring the view and feeling content to be part of the glorious complexity of nature.
When skunk cabbages rise in roadside ditches still wet from winter rains, my pulse quickens. The bright yellow flowers appear almost overnight and are like bursts of sunshine signalling that a re-awakening is near. Shortly after, spring sneaks around the corner.
I love seeking out quiet nooks adorned by wildflowers. Sometimes I am rewarded by a clutch of calypso (aka fairy slipper) orchids, one of six orchids found in the Gulf Islands. Sadly, they are rapidly being lost and I hold their locations a close secret.
The broad-leaved stonecrop is usually perched on a rocky cliff or outcrop. It starts as a low almost moss-like plant, but then a yellow flower bursts forth and it grows much higher, towering over the leaves below.
To see chocolate lilies, I head to a grassy meadow near Gowland Point on Pender Island. Although quite rare, for a short period, hundreds of these lilies are scattered here like jewels amongst the grass.
Near Boat Passage on Saturna Island with a sparkling early morning sun, I stood among dozens of white fawn (aka Easter) lilies, still wet with dew, their white flowers dangling from slender straight stalks.
In late spring, the foxglove grows up to 2-metres high with the purple and sometimes white flowers lining up like small bells. I love to watch bees humming from flower to flower, often burrowing right of sight.
In springtime, the bright yellow flowers of Scotch broom are ubiquitous. Though a lovely sight, the broom is a rampant invasive with prolific seed production, up to 18,000 seeds per plant. The plant can live 15 years, and on hot days you can hear their seed pods popping open like popcorn. Each seed has the astounding ability to lie dormant for up to 30 years before germinating.
Who cannot admire a rose, the very symbol of love? The Nootka (aka wild) rose sports pink flowers and can reach as high as 3 metres, favouring open habitats such as meadows, roadsides and shorelines.
Native plants are excellent for gardens because over the centuries they have adapted to the regional weather and soil. They need minimal fertilizer, very little watering, minimal weeding and no pesticides. Best of all, they attract birds, bees and butterflies, providing colour and movement that soothe the soul.
For centuries, Indigenous peoples have suffered under colonialization. The Truth & Reconciliation Commission report, however, delivered a potent jolt to Canadians. Pender Island and the southern Gulf Islands have listened and provide inspirational examples.
Pender initiatives focused on understanding Tsawout First Nation culture and building bridges with them (although the Tsawout no longer live on Pender but on the nearby Saanich Peninsula).
The Pender Reconciliation Circle was formed and organized numerous projects, which continue today, including films, language workshops, seminars, demonstrations and more.
One presentation featured Bob Watts, former Truth and Reconciliation Commission Executive Director, then CEO of the Assembly of First Nations and a member of the Six Nations Nation. Watts later said, “the [Pender Island] circle is truly one of the most special experiences I have had. It reinforces my belief in the goodness of Canadians.”
An Aboriginal Cultural Festival was celebrated with a First Nations skill demonstration, history telling, a guided walk and a pot-luck feast with traditional entertainment. The South Pender Historical Society organized a First Nations history seminar series. At one meeting, the audience learned about reef-net fishing, banned by the federal government, and its importance to Salish First Nations.
A traditional fire-pit was built at the school where annual roasts are attended by students from the Pender and Tsawout schools. Of particular note, a student leadership program with six students from each school was established.
A two-day First Nations celebration in 2017 included a workshop on the Tsawout language, an ethnobotany plant walk and the unveiling of a permanent 13 Moon Calendar, which describes the close relationship of the Coast Salish people’s lives with nature. The celebration culminated in a traditional salmon pit cook with an emotional Karios Blanket exercise, which moved many to tears.
At Mayne Island an Honouring Figure in Emma and Felix Jack Park welcomes visitors with outstretched arms.
Galiano Island has been inhabited by the Penelakut First Nation for at least 3,000 years. In 2019, Penelakut knowledge holders presented a well attended workshop on how to process native black-tail deer into sausages and other meats.
At Saturna, a 13-Moon Calendar display, similar to the one on Pender, was installed, organized by the Elders to Elders group.
The ṮEṮÁĆES Climate Action Project has just finished delivering 3 five-day educational courses on Pender Island that combine climate science with the holistic Traditional Knowledge of the W̱SÁNEĆ people. This ambitious program was very successful.
It’s heart-warming that reconciliation is making progress.
Red dress hangs at Pender Island Community Hall.
Class on Tsawout language (Pender Island)
Kairos Blanket exercise (Pender Island)
13 Moon Calendar on Saturna Island (credit: Monica Morten)