Newfoundland m’dear! For IMCC4!

I just got back from the 4th International Marine Conservation Congress in St. John’s Newfoundland, put on by the Society for Conservation Biology. The last time I went to this meeting was in 2011 when it was in Victoria. It’s one of my favourite conferences to go to because it draws a really top-notch international crowd in addition to being well attended by government employees, NGOs and conservation practitioners.


A big highlight was that it took place in St. John’s Newfoundland – a totally beautiful coastal town in Canada that I love. It’s so rich in culture and Newfie’ness, and is relatively small which helps to make the conference feel a bit more connected and intimate.


Charlotte and I enjoy the colourful St. John’s “jellybean houses” (or at least that is what we called them).

Some beautiful Newfoundland seascapes!

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The conference theme was “Making Marine Science Matter” and there was a ton of excellent presentations focusing on the interface of marine science and management. On this note, it was SO GOOD to see so many Canadian federal employees, both presenting and attending. I went to several great presentations about the plan to establish a federal network of marine protected areas – it’s nice to see progress is finally happening on this front.


Presentation by Maxime Westhead outlining the 5 point plan that the federal government announced on Oceans Day.

Tons of presentations focused on BC also – with special sessions and numerous presentations highlighting the joint First Nations – BC Province Marine Planning Partnership and resulting marine spatial plans for the North Coast region.

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I personally really enjoyed the full session of presentations put on by the Ocean Tipping Points Project. Their work is directly related to what I’m studying with sea otter recovery and tipping points on the Central Coast of B.C.

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What was also great was a number of presentations that focused on the human side of conservation – how to work with coastal communities, and within management institutions and governance structures to generate outcomes that are beneficial for both the oceans and people! Not an easy task, but it’s great to see many people working towards this goal!


And….to top it all off…at the closing plenary I was honoured to be recognized as a finalist for Best Student Presentation!! That’s a pretty big deal in my books…considering how many good presentations I saw! Thank you! And thanks to the Hakai Institute and others for tweeting about it 🙂 Way to end a conference on a high note!

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Coastal Voices in Alaska!


I feel super fortunate to have just returned from an incredible journey to south-central Alaska to visit two amazing Native communities – Port Graham and Nanwalek – travelling with the Coastal Voices team! We went to hear some different perspectives from people who have been living with sea otters in their territory for 50+ years. In Alaska, there are also different federal regulations around sea otters, and Native people’s are allowed to hunt them along with other marine mammals. These communities also have a different colonial history, along with their own unique identity and culture. As such, we felt like there was a lot the Coastal Voices team could learn from the people here. So at the end of June, we set off with the crew to explore some new perspectives, hear some new stories, and see and learn some new things! Here’s where we were:

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Here’s how we got there! Tiny bush planes from Homer flew us to Port Graham.

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After arriving and getting settled, Anne and I set off to meet with the community leaders to help coordinate the workshop logistics. Anne did her PhD work in these communities, so we were welcomed by many of her old and good friends who showed us around…and even took us fishing (thanks Lydia)!

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Here is the whole crew. Again we were fortunate to have Hereditary Chiefs from the Haida (Skill-Hilans Allan Davidson) and Toquaht (Wii-tsts-koom Anne Mack) Nations with us here to learn.


Again we were fortunate to have great local people co-host the workshop with us! Tim Malchoff (below) from Port Graham is working on developing education content around traditional hunting practices, and he helped us develop the workshop content and arrange many of the local logistics. He was pleased that we were doing this in the community as it gave him an opportunity to acquire some information and content for the toolkits he is developing.


Tim smiles as I model an extremely warm sea otter hat.

After talking and meeting with many people in the community, the days of our workshops arrived. Here is the great turn out we had in Port Graham. In the photo below, Chief Pat Norman welcomes the BC Chiefs and the Coastal Voices team to his community and thanks the community for coming.


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After a wonderful workshop in Port Graham and conducting a bunch of surveys and interviews, we made our way over to the nearby community of Nanwalek. Here we hosted another workshop the following day, with an equally great turn out, wonderful stories, great discussion, and of course… DELICIOUS food!


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Following the workshop in Nanwalek, we did a bunch more survey interviews with community members and once again, were fortunate to be toured around and invited to many people’s homes to share tea, stories, and laughs! Although Chief John Kavasnikof was unable to attend our workshop, we had some good meetings, did an interview, and he gave us a ride on his skiff (below, right).

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Time flew and it was soon time to go. We took off again in the tiny busy planes back to Homer, where we conducted a third and final workshop at the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Big shout out to Liz who helped us organize this and arranged for us all to stay a the KBNE Research Reserve during our stay. The next day we made our way back to Vancouver, full of good stories and information. We look forward to sharing this information, along with photos and videos we documented, back with the community in the coming year! Thanks again!

Coastal Voices goes to Kyuquot

The Coastal Voices team just returned from an amazing trip to the community of Kyuquot – home to the Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Chek’tles7et’h’ First Nation. Where is Kyuquot? It’s here, on the outer west coast of Vancouver Island.

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We were invited there to co-host a community workshop – Adapting to Sea Otters and Changing Access to Shellfish and Fish – and talk to the community members about their experiences living alongside sea otters, which were re-introduced into the territory in 1969. Travelling with us were some Heredity Chiefs from other First Nations in B.C. who have not yet experienced sea otters returning to their territory. They joined this Coastal Voices ‘road trip’ to learn from the Kyuquot community about the impacts that otters have had in the area, but most importantly, what factors facilitate a better co-existence with, or adaptation to living with sea otters.


From left to right: Ilja (our film maker), Toquaht Chief Wii-tsts-koom Anne Mack, Haida Chief Skill-Hilans Allan Davidson, Evelyn Pinkerton (SFU researcher), Kii’iljuus Barb Wilson (SFU researcher), Laurie Wood (team organizer/amin), Anne Salomon (SFU researcher), Haida Chief Git Kinjuaas Ron Wilson and ME!


We had a chance to get out on the water and see some otters! This was the first time that the Haida and Toquaht Chiefs have seen a real otter. It was a beautiful day and a breathtaking seascape!

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Our local guide Kieth Cox (Fisheries Technician for the Kyuquot Nation) smiles while Barb photographs her first live sea otters!


After being inspired by the local seascape, our team got to work planning the workshop.


The Coastal Voices crew sits in the beautiful Kyuquot Band office meeting room with Tony Hansen (Fisheries Manager and workshop co-host) and other fisheries technicians to discuss goals and plans for the workshop.

After lots of planning and discussion, the evening of our workshop finally arrived. We had a great turn out (~40-50 people), lots of delicious food, and tons of really good dialogue. We appreciated greatly the discussion and stories that people were willing to share. We wrote notes on flip chart, recorded ideas on our laptops, conducted a survey, watched several video clips (including the coastal voices short film) and gave away some fun door prizes!


Chief Peter Hansen begins the evening by welcoming us to the territory and thanking the community for coming.


Barb overviews the evening and tells a story about how we got here and what the Coastal Voices project is hoping to achieve.


View from the back of the room.

After the workshop was over we stayed a few more days to continue talking and interviewing local people. I stayed on beyond this and enjoyed some great experiences with wonderful people in the community sharing food and sharing stories. Myself and the team are deeply grateful for everything and look forward to reporting back to the community as progress on the project continues. Thanks!


Subtidal kelp ID Guide

Me and the wonderful Tanya Prinzing just finished putting together a subtidal kelp ID guide for training purposes. It’s aimed at a naturalist and field tech audience. It combines all the various “ID tips” I’ve collected over the years as well as photos. Dr. Sandra Lindstrom and Dr. Michael Hawkes (phycologists extraordinaire!) have kindly looked it over to ensure the ID descriptions are correct (and recent name changes are included…..can’t keep up with those taxonomists!).
Happy kelping!
Click this image to view the guide!

Click this image to view the guide!

Aging old growth kelp

You think old growth trees are cool…..well so is ‘old growth kelp.’

Me and my wonderful-awesome research assistant Tanya Prinzing have been counting the rings on many samples of the kelp Pterygophora californica over the past couple of weeks. Why? Because ecologist Dr. Jane Watson and others have shown that the annual growth rings can be used to estimate the age of individuals. Jane also showed in her PhD thesis that Pterygophora can reveal information about sea otter recovery.

When sea otters return to an area, they often consume most of the sea urchins in that area, which releases subtidal algae species from grazing pressure (ie. being munched!). Following what is often a first year of colonizing annual species, longer lived species tend to dominate the substrate. One such species is Pterygophor californica – a common undersstory species that can live up to 15+ years (which is really old for a kelp!).

Because urchins are removed all at once, the algae species recruit onto the new substrate in one rather similar-aged cohort. Jane showed in her PhD thesis that if you sample P. californica populations from these deeper areas (7-10m) where sea urchins once were, the “modal age” (ie. most common age encountered in the population) of the kelp stand correlates rather well with the estimated time of sea otter appearance. Hence, determining the age of the ‘old growth’ kelp can help us to estimate when sea otters may have arrived in an area (because in remote coastal areas….we’re not always around to witness when that happens).

We would like to know this information for our sites on the Central Coast of B.C……and so….we are counting kelp rings to hopefully give us more information. Stay tuned for results….

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Our collection of Pterygophora californica samples, freshly harvested from several sites on the Central Coast



Tanya and I count rings on our super cool briefcase light table. Coolest piece of lab gear we own!


Pterygophora stipes

Here are some examples of the cross-sections of the P. californica stipes. The rows show stipes from older (top) to younger (bottom) individuals.


The Kelp, It Is a Changin’

I helped write a Hakai Institute blog post about the kelp mapping work I’m involved in. It’s got some cool interactive links. CLICK HERE to read.

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Coastal Voices Website and Video Launched!

This is technically ‘old news.’ The website launched in the fall of last year. But if I’m going to ‘blog’, you have to start somewhere. So check out this cool website:

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The website contains content from a collaborative workshop that was held in July 2014 at the Hakai Institute. Participants came from over 20 First Nations, 10 academic institutions and/or federal agencies, and included artists, journalists, and videographers. This diverse group examined the ecological, socio-economic and cultural-trade offs triggered by the recovery of sea otters through the lens of traditional knowledge and western science.

A video was also produced from this workshop – Coastal Voices: Navigating the Return of Sea Otters. In 10 minutes you can listen to a diverse group of knowledge holders (First Nation and Scientists) share their thoughts and reflections regarding sea otters, kelp forests, world views and coastal management.

All of this is will continue to feed into ongoing work that a small team of us are leading, asking the question “what are the best ways for First Nations coastal communities to cope with, and adapt to the recovery of sea otters.” Stay tuned!