I decided to just go for it. To reach out through social media, and just send emails. I didn’t have any contacts in BC, but I wanted to volunteer for a meaningful ecological field research project in this beautiful province. And so I found Dave and Misty, who lead Raincoast’s juvenile salmon work in the Fraser Estuary. They are just awesome and work on such important things. But I’m getting ahead of the story.
So what is a Dutchman looking for, almost 8000 kilometers from home? I’m a biologist from the Netherlands, teaching kids from ages 16 and up at a school for vocational education, sometimes known, (I learned) as a trade school. I train them to be field technicians in environmental research. This explains my interest in field work, but why would I travel so far from home?
The availability of Chinook is crucial to the survival of the local killer whales. Tweet This!
Ten years ago I came to British Columbia on a holiday, and I was absolutely smitten by the natural beauty this province offers. The landscape, the history, the wildlife – it resonates with me on a level I can’t explain rationally. And although I understand it was resource exploitation that brought western society (and ultimately, me) to this part of the world, ever since that first visit I have felt a need to contribute personally to the conservation of the last pieces of wild places in British Columbia.
When my school offered a program called ‘Teacher’s Internship’ I jumped at the opportunity. I conveyed how fulfilling a personal goal of mine would also benefit my students and the classes I teach. My school’s board agreed! So I started to look for a Canadian organization willing to host me and found my way to Dave Scott and Misty MacDuffee. I offered my services which they happily accepted (“I’m not saying no to free labor” – Dave). And so I came to Canada to catch juvenile Chinook salmon as part of their ongoing study of migration patterns and habitat use in the Fraser Estuary. It’s important stuff in a broader ecological sense, since the availability of Chinook is crucial to the survival of the local killer whales.
We used several techniques to catch the tiny salmon. We purse seined for them on the flats of the estuary in Georgia Strait using the Bella Rose, we beach seined along the shoreline of the river delta in small boats, and we set up fyke nets in the side channels of the river mouth. It can be long days that are wet, or muddy or hot, or all three.
But it was never dull, and we usually caught (and measured, sampled and released), the beautiful little Chinook – intercepting them for a moment on their big journey into the North Eastern Pacific Ocean.
Lots of kids in the Netherlands dream of working in environments like British Columbia’s coast. I tell them it’s not a holiday. Ecological field work really is work, in which the science matters above all.
Granted – the surroundings can be stellar. In the days I spent on the boat with Dave and Misty I experienced some very serene mornings on the Fraser River. Bald eagles flying above, a lonely seal sticking around to check us out. Mighty snowcapped mountains on the horizon. It almost felt like a holiday. And then we got to work in the mud. It was dirty, and heavy, and hot, and I still loved every minute of it.
I will do whatever I can at home to promote the work of scientists like Dave and Misty. We have our own environmental challenges in the Netherlands of course, but especially in our field it is important to keep a broad perspective. I hope my trip to Canada will inspire my students for years to come. It has certainly inspired me. Thanks for being awesome, Raincoasters!
Become a Raincoaster
Giving to Raincoast enables you to protect what you love most.
For 25 years, Raincoast has been furthering biodiversity conservation in BC. Thanks to your generous donations, among many other accomplishments, we have been able to end commercial trophy hunting of large carnivores in over 38,000 square kilometers of the Great Bear Rainforest, begin acquiring forest land in order to protect threatened Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystems, aid recovery of endangered Southern Resident killer whales by restoring Chinook salmon habitat, and establish a university research lab dedicated to applied conservation science. Strong partnerships are integral to our success.
Our efforts need to be maintained and advanced, now more than ever. As the biodiversity and climate crises collide, your support allows us to continue to make tangible conservation gains.
Biodiversity protection is the most important gift we can give the next generation. Join us as a Raincoaster today!