Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Podunk Below the Masthead, Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Daily News meets field and stream with a look at the coral wonders of the North coast, the Lax Kwa'laams are pleased with the fishing rules and a local doctor enters the electronic age when it comes to record keeping, some of the main items of note in the Tuesday edition of the Daily News.

A PEEK INTO CORAL GARDENS OF THE NORTH COAST-- If the newspaper came with a soundtrack we would no doubt be hearing that Disney favourite Under the Sea, as the front page, headline story in the Tuesday edition featured a look at the undersea coral arrangements of the North coast. (see story below)

Elsewhere in the tuesday paper was the examination of a BC Court of Appeal ruling that a claim by the GItxaala nation to claim territorial rights over portions of Prince Rupert harbour will not have any bearing on any decision reached in October this year. It was a development that was welcomed by the Lax Kw'alaams who felt that Gitxaala should respect the traditional boundaries for what they have always been. (see story here)

A local Doctor is making the move to electronic record keeping and is hoping that other Prince Rupert doctors follow his lead. The paper outlined the workings of the new electronic medical records service being introduced by Dr. Herman Greeff, who is of the belief that the process will make patient visits more streamlined with better access to their records. He is also hopeful that the system will be implemented at the Hospital through their various departments.

The sports page features more details on the KISL season so far, as well as a wire story report on Robin Gomez's acquittal which we outlined on this blog last week.

Total pages in the Tuesday edition (14)

Front page, headline story:

By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Pages one and five

Life at the bottom of the North Coast waters is vastly different from the surface world.

But what is happening down there could have long term impacts on what happens up here.

The executive director of the Living Oceans Society, Jennifer Lash, believes that a study of the corals along the northern-half of the B.C. coast will have long term policy consequence that leads to more protected areas of the ocean. That's why she decided to submerge herself 1,060 feet deep off the B.C. coast, to find the truths that have remained hidden for most British Columbians.

And, of course, as possibly the only person to have seen some of these corals up close, there is a joyful connection between you and the very real wildlife down there, even if you are stuck in a claustrophobia-inducing solo submarine.

"I was worried about the same thing (claustrophobia) but the experience is astounding," said Lash, who is now comfortably relaxing back at the LOS home base in Sointula.

"To sit down there and realize that you are probably the only person that is ever going to get to see that one place you are sitting in, is a really profound experience. And it's one that I have never experienced before."

The small solo submarine was a vital part of the expedition because without it the team would not have been able to get down to the 1,000 foot depth where these corals thrive.

And what she saw could provide a profound kick in the butt toward protecting the marine habitat on the Canadian west coast.

There is hope that data collected from this mission will be used as part of a potential Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA), the much talked about ongoing and collaborative planning process that brings together interested stakeholders and regulators in an effort to reach common ground.

PNCIMA is looking for a plan that will provide the best mix of conservation, sustainable use and economic development of marine areas.

Trawling fishermen know about corals from a frustrating obstacle level. When fishing for rockfish, halibut or any other low-lying fish in the ocean, trawl nets often get caught on the finger-like extensions of coral reefs while fishing.

Diving for coral is not without its occupational hazards, either. On one dive the team had already secured a three-mile perimeter to allow for safe diving when a trawler boat approached the dive team's vessel at a relatively high speed of eight knots. The team had wondered at the time whether the trawler had intended to intimidate them or if the crew was merely curious. While nothing came of the ship's approach, the team felt they had reason to worry.

But although trawlers have resisted working with LOS in the past, the marine environment group believes there is a much to gained by mutual cooperation.

The team wants to define areas where fishing is prohibited to ensure that the coral is protected and therefore the ecosystem stays healthier.

"So many species depend on the coral by living in or near the coral. When you start to destroy the coral you begin to' affect that portion of the marine ecosystem." said Lash.

As a result you are weakening the health of the ocean, which means weaker fisheries."

Lash believes the link between her dives and the trawling industry works the other way, too.

"The fishermen don't want to catch coral. It gets in the way of their nets, it messes things up for them. But even if they don't want to catch coral, they are. We see it in their bycatch (a term meant for unintended sea life catches) every year."

The team travelled to many different points on the coast, hitting the north end of Vancouver Island and up to the Dixon Entrance, just north of HaidaGwaii.

On June 11, Lash made her first dive - 750 feet down in Goose Trough on the central coast.

As she started to descend, Lash wrote on the team's blog,, that she watched the emerald green sea turn black as the sunlight disappeared. At about 400 feet, she descended through a cluster of small jellyfish moving in the current. At about 500 feet Lash came across a school of yellowtail rockfish hanging out in water column.

Reaching the bottom, Lash landed in a field of feather stars extending their branches into the water column. Scattered along the seabed were bright red shortspine thornyhead rockfish nestled in the sand 'watching the world go by'.

"The entire seabed looked like it was moving as the delicate brittle stars scuttled away from the sub," explained Lash.

Then, closer to Prince Rupert, off Banks Island, Lash said the team saw one of the most amazing fields of white coral that she had ever come across.

"It was like being in snow. It was spectacular," said Lash.

The team documented over 14 species of coral, ranging from small orange cup corals to meter high red,tree corals. They learned about the black spotted rock fish that nestle in the stalks of Primoa and the brittle stars that entwine in the sytlaster hydrocorals. Over the next few months this data will be analyzed by their science team and the result used to develop a conservation .strategy to protect these beautiful and important creatures.

While Lash hopes that both the federal and provincial governments will follow up on her voyage, the expedition itself will never leave her.

"It was a very exciting experience because of the scientific value, but from a personal level for me - it was a life changing event."

"Sometimes you just feel like, 'Wow! I'm a visitor sitting in someone else's house'. I'm lucky to be here and to see all of it," said Lash.

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