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To help Howe Sound: be curious, and appreciate its gifts

Something happened in early January that still thrills me. I am out for a paddle in my kayak on Deep Bay and spy a flock of wheeling gulls just off of Pebbly Beach. So, I quietly approach and tie up to a mooring buoy about 10 metres away.

Something happened in early January that still thrills me. I am out for a paddle in my kayak on Deep Bay and spy a flock of wheeling gulls just off of Pebbly Beach. So, I quietly approach and tie up to a mooring buoy about 10 metres away. A frenzy of shrieking gulls float, hover, and dive into the water. Seal heads pop up among the gulls; cormorants and mergansers dive. Slowly the chaos moves my way until it is all around me.  It is overwhelming. The gulls shriek, rise and dive. The water is crystal clear. Just below my boat, seals flash by. Thousands of small fish glimmer just a foot down. I lower my underwater camera on its 4 foot pole into the fray. 

What my camera sees seems too remarkable to be happening in Deep Bay, Bowen’s ocean front yard. A great silvery swirl of anchovy explodes like fireworks as a seal sweeps upwards. The anchovy regroup. Then scatter again as a seal fires in from the left. Above, the surface is cut by plunging gulls, wings pulled tight, bills piercing downwards to snag a fish. Then the sea lion appears. Driving on wing beats of its great flippers, it arches up through the fleeing anchovy.

Hunter and hunted, yet movements full of grace akin to ballet. It goes on until I give up. Evening is falling. I reluctantly go.

I have posted this video on my YouTube channel (search YouTube for “Bob Turner Howe Sound Ballet”) where it joins 10 other short movies I have made on the wild places and nature of Howe Sound /Atl’kitsem. 

My great discovery after retiring in 2014 has been my I love for making movies about Wild Howe Sound. It started with a flick of the dial on the back of a small camera. I had just retired, and was about to take my first step on a backpacking trip with my brother Tim in Utah. On impulse, I flicked the camera setting to video. I had never shot a video before, only photographs. It changed everything. Suddenly my eye was looking for movement, for action, for a story. Later I tried the iMovie editing software. It was so intuitive to use. I was hooked!

But it was Howe Sound that gave my storytelling a purpose. Shortly after we got back to Howe Sound (Tim lives in Gibsons), we headed over to Gambier Island to hike into Gambier Lake. We spent the day walking forest glades, lying back in deep moss, swimming crystal pools. I took video as we went. We got back to find that we had spent the entire day in an area proposed for woodlot logging. We were stunned. This was a place of such beauty, so wild, and in the very heart of Howe Sound. Conservationists were alarmed, but few others knew about it. So we made a video of our hike to show the place, to wonder aloud why log such beauty, and posted it on YouTube. The video, and another that followed, helped galvanize opposition. In the end, the Province withdrew the logging plans.

The Gambier logging fight taught me a lot. Video can give a voice to beautiful but little known places threatened by development. When a gravel mining operation was proposed for McNab Creek estuary, I went with Tim and John Rich to explore and record its beauty and rhetorically ask whether Howe Sound was the right place for a new mine. Again, the video galvanized community opposition.

But, at heart, I am not a fighter. My deep instincts are to celebrate and encourage.

So other movies evolved: a kayak trip and the new marine trail through Howe Sound, salmon runs, anchovy schools, Tim’s wild orca experience, and now this anchovy feeding frenzy. Some I plan, others just happen. 

For 30 years I have explored Wild Howe Sound and now movies give me a vehicle to share its stories. The time is right. Over the last 5 years there has been a remarkable surge of community will to work on behalf of the health of Howe Sound; a sophistication of talent and effort I have not seen before. Into this energetic and fast moving mix I want to give a voice to Wild Nature, to remind us all who are our wild neighbours, the blessings they offer, and the responsibilities we bear. 

So Meribeth asked me the question “What can people do?” to help Howe Sound.

What first comes to mind is to just “Pay attention.” Living here is a gift – take a moment to savour it whenever you can – in your backyard, on a forest walk, during your next ride on the ferry or water taxi. The beautiful and the curious is everywhere. My hunch is that the greatest asset Howe Sound/Atl’kitsem could have, is to be populated by folks attentive to its magic and its beauty.

Collectively, we have damaged Howe Sound/Atl’kitsem through thousands of actions, some small, some large, some careless, some accidental. These go on today. But Nature is resilient. Recovery is underway. The way forward will require that we pay attention to what damages, and offset those with thousands of acts of repair, restoration and reconciliation, through creativity, collaboration and hard work, and also celebration and enjoyment. 

I am inspired by what many of my island neighbours are doing. For example, Stephen Foster is the Howe Sound lead for the David Suzuki Foundation, organizing workshops to pull together knowledge holders, hosting the travelling Great Howe Sound Recovery film night, developing Camp Suzuki with Squamish Nation, and promoting consideration of a National Park on Gambier Island. Kiley Redhead and Baz Cardinal are organizing their 3rd annual Bowen Island Adventure Film Festival for this May, urging us to get outside and explore. Bruce and Alex Steele and other water taxi drivers are out on Howe Sound waters all the time and have stories to tell about what they see. Waterfront owners, paddlers, and recreational fishers are other eyes on the water and have stories. Peter Ross leads the Coastal Ocean Research Institute for Vancouver Aquarium that released the Howe Sound Ocean Watch Report (and website) in 2016 that is a remarkable summary of what’s up in Howe Sound. The BICS Outdoor 45 class is always out and about – listen to what they see. Trisha and Ross Beaty fund, through their Sitka Foundation, many good works in Howe Sound by David Suzuki Foundation and Vancouver Aquarium. Anton van Walraven and the Concerned Citizens of Bowen inform us on the Woodfibre LNG and Burnco Gravel Mine projects. Will Husby and the Bowen Nature Club run hikes and walks around Bowen, exploring forests and shores. Richard Wing organizes Bowen’s annual Christmas Bird Count; corner Billi Gowans or Ben Keen if you have seen a bird you want identified. Tom Raphael has put effort into bringing a UNESCO Biosphere Region designation to Howe Sound/Atl’kitsem. Adam Taylor dives with others off Bowen shores to document and protect marine life, including our now famous glass sponge reefs. Tim Pardee and the volunteers of the Bowen Fish and Wildlife Club operate the fish hatchery and annually release baby salmon into our streams. Pauline Le Bel has written an inspiring book about Howe Sound, “Whale In The Door”. Chris Corrigan has close links, like Pauline, with Squamish Nation members, and his blog reflects on our community, reconciliation, and his work convening conversations. Everhard van Lidth de Jeude and the Bowen Island Conservancy have built new trails to Ferry Fen and Singing Woods Nature Reserves; take a walk! Robert Ballantyne and the Rotary Club have produced a great map of hiking trails for Bowen. Alicia Hoppenrath and the new Bowen Island Trails Society provide energy and muscle to maintain these island trails. Peter Scott and Billi Behm just might convince you to don a wetsuit and swim the ocean around us; who knows what that might lead to! And there are so many others. Our collective knowledge and effort is rich and broad.

We live at a remarkable time and in a remarkable place. Howe Sound/Atl’kitsem is in recovery. That such a wild geography lies just around the corner from the giant city of Vancouver is astonishing. It is a piece of geographic and historic luck that we still have so much natural vigour to savour and protect. There are so many ways to help. Have fun!