Who I am
I first came to the Great Bear Rainforest while at university to attend an ecology field school in the Koeye watershed, a fantastically beautiful river system that supports five species of salmon and where grizzly bears roam white sand beaches in open view of the Pacific.
After six weeks immersed in the rainforest, I was hooked. I moved to the Great Bear four years ago to work for Pacific Wild, an organisation that shares my passion for and dedication to protecting this coast.
Where I work
The central and north coast of British Columbia, known as the Great Bear Rainforest, is the world’s largest remaining intact temperate rainforest and is also home to one of the most biologically rich, yet fragile coastlines on earth. It comprises a thousand uninhabited islands and hundreds of deep mainland fjords and river valleys backed by a snow-capped coastal mountain range. For the most part, the waters are clean and cold, and the wild places to explore are endless.
Pacific Wild is based on a small island with about 100 residents, next to the larger Heiltsuk First Nation community of Bella Bella (population 1,500). Indigenous people in this region are reclaiming stewardship over their territories and are working hard to protect wildlife and habitat, from herring to grizzly bears to salmon-bearing watersheds. We strive to design research programmes that will help local First Nations to make informed resource management decisions.
Until recently, conservationists in this area focused primarily on protecting old-growth forests, but industrial shipping has now become the biggest environmental issue facing the Great Bear Rainforest. In addition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline project, an oil export pipeline that would introduce oil supertankers to the region, there are 14 proposals to ship liquefied natural gas from north coast ports to markets abroad. If they come into effect, the Great Bear Sea could potentially go from having no tanker traffic to seeing more than 2,500 supertanker trips per year, with no assessment of cumulative effects.
These projects would put cetacean populations in the Great Bear Sea that are already at risk – including killer, fin and humpback whales – under direct threat. The potential for thousands of supertanker transits through these coastal waters each year would exponentially increase the risk of ship strikes. If an oil spill were to occur, it would destroy habitat for cetaceans and their prey. In addition, the dramatic increase in commercial shipping could lead to damaging levels of underwater noise that would interfere with the cetaceans’ social, feeding and navigational behaviours.
What I do
As the threats to the Great Bear Sea mount, we set out to better understand the baseline levels of ambient noise here and to monitor noise and marine mammal populations over time. Inspired by the work of OrcaLab to the south and CetaceaLab to the north, we have set up six remote hydrophone stations that record underwater sound around the central coast 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Pacific Wild has also developed an innovative conservation project that live-streams wildlife video cameras from the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest onto our website. This real-time video technology gives us unprecedented insight into wildlife behaviour along this threatened coastline, in addition to providing an engaging tool to inspire the public. Our cameras move from location to location throughout the year, from rivers where bears and wolves feed on salmon in the fall to herring spawning grounds in the spring and outer coast sea lion rookeries in the summer.
This summer we will be replacing our camera on the outer coast with one that has an automated windshield wiper, so that we will be able to conduct real-time cetacean surveys and photo identification remotely in all types of weather. We will then be able to move our current camera to one of our hydrophone locations along the Inside Passage.
With the power of audio and visual technology at two sites, we will be able to study vocalisation rates of killer whales so that we can better understand what we might be missing by using only hydrophones, as well as how cetaceans may be responding to boat noise in the area. With success, we expect that this technology will serve as a model for other marine mammal research efforts around the globe.
The live audio and video streams are broadcast online so that people anywhere in the world can tune in. We plan to make our web portal more interactive by adding educational content and ways that people can take action to protect the Great Bear Sea, as well as by developing a forum for viewers to post their observations from the live streams.
We hope you will take a look at our Great Bear LIVE project and help us to build the case for marine protected areas in the Great Bear Sea.