When I saw Owikeeno Lake from the plane my jaw dropped and my nerves soared. There was no mistaking it – brilliant emerald green stretching far beyond the restrictions of my little window. It’s amazing that a lake with so much glacial silt supports salmon at all, let alone the famed runs of Rivers Inlet.
What caused the province’s second-largest sockeye run to plummet from almost 2 million fish to only 3600? Decades of over-fishing? Decades of logging? Climate change? Natural cycles? With so many questions, my wandering mind is brought into even sharper focus: will we be able to get a sediment core? The logistical challenges of this project slowly sink in. Along with my stomach. The float plane lands.
By early afternoon, we are in a boat in the uppermost basin of Owikeeno. We deploy the coring unit over the side of the boat, lower it 500 feet to the murky bottom and haul it back up. But no luck. The coring unit resurfaced with nothing inside.
We try again. And again. And then, finally, success! We retrieve the first sediment core from Owikeeno Lake. By the end of the second day, we had eight more cores from different parts of the lake, and by the end of the third day we had 1,300 baggies filled with sediment. I never thought so many little packets of mud could bring me so much joy.
So, now my real work begins in the lab – a much less glamorous setting than the rugged beauty of Rivers Inlet. I am hoping that marine nitrogen, zooplankton and diatoms in the sediment of Owikeeno Lake will tell us a story about salmon, about their abundance on the coast over the last 500 years.
Hopefully, it’s a story we can learn from.
September 10, 2004
From the deck of a boat in the Great Bear Rainforest