Photo: Solving two of BC coastal issues at once

(Credit: Judy Hilgemann 2012)

I live in one of the most remote and beautiful places in Canada: Haida Gwaii — a large group of islands in the north Pacific ocean.

This is a coastal wilderness, dense green forests of ancient Cedars, rocky cliffs facing the wide open Pacific, and miles of gorgeous beaches. The east coast of Haida Gwaii has been the traditional home of the Haida People for thousands of years. Several small communities flourish between the ocean and the forests along the more gentle eastern fringes of the islands.

The west coast of the archipelago has beaches which are so remote that the only footprints in the sand are those of birds and bears. There are no roads to many of these beaches, no trails, no trace of human civilization. Haida Gwaii's west coast has remained almost untouched because access by boat or air is hampered by unpredictable storms at any time of year.

But a new threat to this environment is reaching the shores: Tsunami debris from the 2011 tragedy which swept the shores of Japan. Thousands of pounds of shredded plastic, torn fragments of buildings and docks, styrofoam, and all the other debris of the shattered coastal Japanese cities is now reaching the west coast of North America. The estimates are that this debris will continue to travel to our shores for several years. And as it gradually breaks down it becomes even harder to remove it from the environment. These particles of plastic will stay in the oceans and on the shores forever. Birds, marine mammals, fish, and other aquatic creatures ingest the plastic and become polluted. What began as a human tragedy has now become a serious threat to an entire ocean of marine life.

The second threat to North America's west coast is the possibility of oil tanker traffic through these remote and stormy seas. One tanker disaster could decimate marine environments and destroy some of the last pristine places on earth. There is no argument which can convince the residents of coastal British Columbia that the tanker traffic is worth the risk.
Thousands of people are rallying and attending hearings to voice their concerns.

I have wanted to participate in this discussion but public speaking is not my strength. For many months I have been listening to the wise words of elders, community leaders, neighbours, friends, students, teachers, and experts from near and far. Not one person has said "Yes" to the oil company's proposal. It has been a heartfelt and definitive plea to the huge company to stop, and to listen to what the people of this place really want. They want this beautiful place to remain clean and healthy and unpolluted for generations to come.

The best way for a visual artist to reach out to people is through pictures, so I decided to add my voice as a cartoon. I wish the answers to the difficult issues we face were as simple as putting pen to paper.

But if you can draw it... It's a start.

By Judy Hilgemann

Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii

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Aug 11, 2012
3:44 PM

Well written Judy! I live in Ontario and have been following the news regarding the possibility of the Enbridge pipeline going through the pristine land in Northern BC. I hadn't heard of the debris washing up on the shore from the 2011 disaster in Japan. I feel for your people and hope that the outcome of your talks with the oil companies is positive. I have not had the chance to visit Haida Gwaii, but have been to Northern BC a few times and I am in awe of the breathtaking untouched land and I to hope that it can remain untouched for future generations to enjoy.

Aug 08, 2012
9:26 PM

How do you stop big business from making profits, we have to somehow come up with an alternate plan which does not cut into their profits, but I have no idea what it is.

Aug 08, 2012
6:50 PM

I have read quite a bit about Haida Gwaii and although I have not been there feel very connected. It so upsets me to here about the debris making its way to the shores of such a majestic place. I only wish these super tankers would not exist, they have already caused so much damage around the world. As someone involved in Fish and Wildlife it is nice to know that places like this still exist and I hope one day to walk those beaches. Keep up the good work.

Aug 08, 2012
5:51 PM

thank you for taking time and sharing this wit us

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