Bowen's wild shores have long been a source of facination for islanders and visitors alike. While exploring tide pools and running down to the beachside to watch passing whales have ignited many a curious mind, now islanders have something to to turn to for indepth local marine information.
Bowen Island Conservancy’s newly released Exploring Bowen’s Marine World: A Marine Atlas of Nexwlelexwem/Bowen Island, a guide to Bowen’s marine environment, covers everything plankton to nearshore forests to salmon to glass sponge reefs to whales and dolphins.
The endeavour was more than a year in the making from the authors: naturalist and interpreter Will Husby, geographer, filmmaker and former mayor Bob Turner and filmmaker, photographer and storyteller Len Gilday. Editor Susan Munro rounded off the core team.
"Environmental recovery will not be a return to what was––that’s now gone," reads one of the opening pages. "With hard work we can learn about what we still have and support a resilient ecosystem that can absorb predicted disturbances and maintain ecological function."
“That comes from something [local ecologist] Alejandro Frid said to us early in the genesis of [the project],” said Husby.
“And that sets us apart from books that talk nostalgically about what was or tell you that everything’s going to hell in a handbasket,” said Husby. “There’s a lot of hope and optimism in Howe Sound because things are changing for the good and we’re watching that happen.”
With a total budget of $18,000, the marine atlas got support from the Bowen Island Community Foundation, the Sitka Foundation and some private donations from islanders.
“It was wonderful to see that dream realized so perfectly,” said Munro.
“I did love just seeing all these little bits and pieces of information and knowledge come together in something that is story,” said Turner. “A really picture-rich story.”
The hundreds of photographs over the 54 pages not only come from the archives of the three shutter-friendly authors but community members as well––such as Mary Le Patourel who has long observed and photographed the birds of the cove.
“The thing that we did early on was we agreed that we weren’t going to do a writing project and slap photos and diagrams at the end,” said Husby, who is also the book’s graphic designer. “We built the chapters with the pictures and the text.”
Personal stories and observations from islanders occupy sidebars––like the story of Adam Taylor’s father and uncle filling the bathtub with herring to freeze on cookie sheets and use as bait. Red “storm warning” sidebars note foreseeable hazards, like sea level rise, ocean acidification and more localized threats like abandoned boats. Green “lighthouse” sidebars note projects and observations of local interest.
The authors based the work not only on their own areas of expertise and interest (Turner naturally wrote the whales chapter) but did several workshops with the community, gathering information and insight.
“What got us excited is that this wasn’t some summary of what’s out there in the literature,” said Turner. “This is this stuff is being pulled together really for the first time because it’s coming out of the community.”
“We worked hard throughout this to anchor it in on Bowen Island,” said Gilday. “Because it’s easy to go adrift and follow the whales out to sea and never come back.”
While there’s a lot of broad information (for example that eelgrass meadows are biodiversity hotspots), the authors ground each chapter in the relevance to Bowen (eelgrass meadows are found in some of Bowen’s popular moorage areas –– Mannion, Bowen and Tunstall Bays, which have lost many of their original eel grass beds).
The Hornby Island Marine Conservation Atlas provided the model for the Bowen iteration, which the team in turn hopes will inspire neighbouring islands to pursue similar projects.
“It’s so immediately relevant to our life and how we spend our time here,” said Munro.
“It’s going to be it’s going to be a great resource for families and children and schools and anybody interested in the marine world for years to come,” said Gilday.
The marine atlas crew is holding a virtual celebration and launch on Zoom May 24 at 7 p.m. Email Susan Munro at email@example.com to join in the party.
Islanders can buy their physical atlases at Phoenix.