The Ocean Bridge team is all smiles after collecting 300 pounds of beach debris at Lepas Bay/Taalung Slung. Most of the garbage consisted of household items such as plastic bottles and Kuerig cups. (Dave Byng/OceanWise)

Gwaii Haanas Report: Ocean friends gather on Haida Gwaii

By Victoria Leslie

More than three dozen youth from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to Pond Inlet, Nunavut to Skidegate, B.C. and everywhere in between travelled to Haida Gwaii from May 20 to 30 to learn and spread awareness about ocean health.

The national initiative was organized by Vancouver-based OceanWise as a part of a Canada-wide program to engage youth in their own communities before, during, and after their time on Haida Gwaii. I was lucky enough to be one of the two Haida Gwaii youth included on the journey (along with Vanessa Fladmark). All participants shared a love for the ocean and a desire to make a difference — something that motivated us and kept us feeling connected through wave crests and wave troughs on the 10-day journey

On May 21, we hosted a youth beach BBQ day at Hiellen, which gave us the opportunity to talk to local young people about their lives around the ocean. The Bella Bella Boys and Girls Club also happened to be on island, so they joined us for our youth event and shared songs and stories from their home, too.

We boated out to K’yuusda Llnagaay the next day where Raven-Ann Potchka gave us a tour and shared her vast knowledge of the area’s history. We saw house pits, corner posts and mortuary poles. We then hiked from K’yuusda to the Rediscovery Camp in Lepas Bay / T’aalan Stl’aang. We did a shoreline cleanup at Lepas Bay, collecting around 300 pounds of garbage that mainly consisting of household items such as plastic bottles and Kuerig cups.

The unpredictable spring spawning weather showed our Ocean Bridge team a warm, rainy embrace during our Masset stay. We had planned to visit Gwaii Haanas for three days, but peak winds halted those plans. The Haidastyle and Highlander Marine Services crews set up some really fun alternative trips instead. We went through Skidegate Inlet to an old Ts’aahl village site where we learned about salmon in Government Creek as James Cowpar, Sean Young and Alix Goetzinger generously shared stories. We then boated over to Xaayna Llnagaay, another Ts’aahl village site, to learn more. The time at these sites showed us that there are many special protected areas throughout Haida Gwaii.

Cultural learning was another key part of the Ocean Bridge experience. We really appreciated our visit with elders at the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program (SHIP). During games of Dii Gwaay, our group absorbed culture and language. I really enjoyed seeing my new friends learn and appreciate my culture with me. While I was with the smaller group that attended SHIP, the larger group stayed at North Beach and collected over 2,000 pounds of garbage!

Our ocean education included hearing from many guest speakers focused on a variety of seaworthy topics from sea otters to microplastics. Kii’iljuus, Barbara Wilson, was very generous with her knowledge of Haida Gwaii, spending a few days with us, sharing jam at her house, and wisdom from her years of ocean-related work on and off Haida Gwaii.

The Ocean Bridge team will continue our ocean service projects until the end of the year. We meet again at the Vancouver Aquarium in October to share our knowledge, strengthen and spread our vast love for the ocean and Earth alike.

Thank you to everyone who made this group and trip run so well!

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B.C. Parks Ranger Chris Ashurst takes a close look at the intertidal life by Tow Hill last Tuesday morning together with some of the 40 youth who visited Haida Gwaii with Ocean Bridge. For 10 days, the Ocean Bridge team joined in marine conservation projects focused on traditional knowledge, marine debris, ocean education, and citizen science. (Ocean Bridge/Submitted)

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