Alexandra Morton addresses the audience at a Speaker’s Corner presentation June 30 at St. John Gualbert Church in Port McNeill.

Panelists speaks up for oceans’ future

PORT McNEILL-Final Speaker's Corner series event gathers quintet of notable marine researchers, scientists.

PORT McNEILL—The final Speaker’s Corner session of the 2013-14 season assembled an all-star panel of environmental heroes — who might also be considered industry’s worst nightmare.

But closing speaker Jackie Hildering insisted that conflict must be put aside for the long-term health of both our children and our environment in the final monthly session of the 2013-14 season at St. John Gualbert Church.

“We’re so bi-polar in our community, and we need to stop it,” said Hildering, a researcher who blogs at the Marine Dectective. “We need to stop being either resource users or environmentalists. It’s not about jobs versus the environment; it’s about sustainable jobs. It’s also about connecting children to nature, and not defining them by their technology. Acknowledge their technology, but bring nature into that as well.”

It was all about nature as veteran scientists and researchers Dr. Paul Spong, Alexandra Morton and Hildering were joined by next-generation environmentalists Christie McMillan and Jared Towers at St. John Gualbert Church in a panel discussion on Marine Matters of Northern Vancouver Island — Past, Present and Future.

Collectively, the panel walked a line between noting the urgency and need for vigilance at a time when the balance of power seems tilted to multinational companies and their bottom lines, and highlighting a positive message and actions people can take collectively and individually to preserve the marine environment.

Pointing out that canned whale meat was still available for purchase as recently as the late 1960s, Hildering noted how far society has come in its awareness of the ecosystem and life forms that share the planet.

“That’s an incredibly fast transition,” she said of move from killing whales to preserving them. “And how does this happen? It’s when knowledge replaces fear, when our value systems change, when we have a sense of connection.”

Morton, who has condemned B.C.’s open net-pen salmon farmers for their impacts on wild fish stocks, made a plea for all coastal user groups to work together to provide a database of fish health up and down the coast.

“If we read the immune system of these (wild) fish at 100km intervals, you would see exactly where their immune systems are switching on,” she said. “Then you can go straight to society and say, ‘I think we’re losing 75 per cent of this salmon run right here.’”

Spong, head of OrcaLab with partner Helena Symonds, has been working to effect the return of Corky, a young Orca taken from her A-5 pod and sent to captivity in California, where she has spent nearly 45 years.

“She’s been through this incredible journey in this horrendous place, deprived of everything needed to live, and she’s still alive, Spong said. “That just tells me she has a chance if she comes back home. I don’t think that means just put her in the ocean and let her go; she has a lot of issues. But she could come to a place, a retirement home in the ocean where she could be continued to be cared for and be in a place where she could meet her family again.”

“I just think that would be a fair thing to do for her. She’s done all this work for people, and we owe her.”

An audience of nearly 50, easily the largest turnout of the Speaker’s Corner series despite a balmy summer evening the day before Canada Day, hung on every word, and asked questions of all five panelists in a joint Q&A session following the talk.

In closing, Hildering illustrated just why the panelists were so vehement in their defence of the natural world.

“We get into, ‘this is about saving the salmon, this is about saving the orca, about saving the humpbacks,'” she said while flashing photos on a large projection screen in a PowerPoint presentation. “No, it’s not. What do you think my favourite species is? It’s not sea slugs, it’s not humpbacks, it’s these strange beings,” Hildering said, flashing a photo collage of various children to general laughter from the audience.

“Not to burden anybody, but for goodness sakes, the ocean is a life-sustaining force. The salmon are an indicator; the orca is an indicator, the humpbacks are an indicator.”

 

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