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Coastal Landscapes

Olympic Skyline. Jordan Rivers, BC.

It is no doubt that water is my medium. Almost everything I’ve done has centered on that: conservation, paddling, and my mantra and guide through life “water & flow.”  Water -- rivers, ocean, bay, and estuary can be wild or serene, and always beautiful. I love them all!

Sunset! Port Renfrew, BC.

Last week my wife Stephanie and I were returning from a short trip to Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in British Columbia (BC) and coming home that evening the sun was setting on Mt. Baker and the Sisters Range behind Bellingham. It was so beautiful that, still north of the border, we took a detour along Boundary Bay to Mud Bay Park to take photographs. When we got there, a parked coal train, miles long, unmoving and uncovered, blocked the entire view. There was no way to shoot around it. It reminded me of how endangered our wonderful and important coastal areas are -- not just for the optics and the views, but for other species, water quality, and the earth itself.

Years ago, we lived in close proximity to Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay with memories of so many trips to the eastern shore, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Chincoteague and Assateague Islands, and a formative year and a half living in Lexington Park in Southern Maryland, just miles from Point Lookout State Park and dinners of blue crab. I remember the many efforts for all of those years (continuing today) to protect that critical body of water.

Upriver! Port Renfrew, BC.

Now in the Pacific Northwest, we live adjacent to the Salish Sea, which faces similar environmental problems. If not worse, then more complicated as this body of water requires protection both from Washington State and BC’s provincial government. That coal train blocking our view, it runs all along the coast of the Salish Sea headed for Vancouver’s Westshore Terminal, the first tenant at the Roberts Bank Terminal system.

I have many opportunities to enjoy local Salish coastal views, as driving to the store I pass the San Juan Islands out my car window. A month or so ago, I drove out to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Peninsula and more recently to Port Renfrew and the San Juan River, the northern boundary of the Salish Sea. All images in this posting are from the Port Renfrew area.

Coastal Reflection! Port Renfrew, BC.

The Salish Sea is one of the world’s largest and biologically rich inland seas, named after the more than forty Coast Salish tribes (and twenty distinct languages). It includes Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands, and the waters off of Vancouver, BC. Over 7470 km (some 4,500 hundred miles) of coastline and over four hundred islands. It is a sailor’s paradise, ancestral home to the Coast Salish peoples, and to endangered Southern Resident killer whales, marbled murrelets, and Pacific salmon. It is also not a bad place to see out your window on a daily basis!

In the Shadows! Port Renfrew, BC.

And like so many other beautiful areas, it is increasingly threatened by ocean acidification, growing populations (including Seattle and Vancouver), existing and planned marine shipping traffic, and wastewater and sewage runoff. Sitting there in that wetland park, trying to peer over or around that coal train, my mind naturally went to the impact that fossil fuels are having on this water body.

Amber Afternoon! Port Renfrew, BC.

Decades ago, the negative impacts from fossil fuels played a significant role in the naming of the Salish Sea and early efforts to protect it both in Washington and BC. My friend Bert Webber (professor emeritus at Western Washington University and currently advisory Board Member with the Salish Sea Institute) has a great write-up on that naming. In the 1970’s, discovery of crude oil on Alaska’s arctic shores, and plans to bring this into Washington State’s inland shores for refining jumpstarted the State and Federal government interest’s in studying the risks to marine resources. In 1989 Burt proposed the name Salish Sea to officially recognize this area.

River Reflection! Port Renfrew, BC.

Of course, that is a never-ending effort. In 2011, SSA Marine and Pacific International Terminals proposed a deepwater port at Cherry Point, just a few miles up the coast from Bellingham to receive forty-eight million tons of coal each year, railed in from the Mountain States and headed to China. Bellingham rebelled, and with a leadership role from the Lummi Nation and many others, and falling prices for coal, that project was terminated. So now those coal trains rumble through Bellingham on their way to Vancouver where they continue to contaminate the Salish Sea.

Gateway to the Woods! Port Renfrew, BC.

Today, fossil fuels continue to threaten this area, even with our greater understanding of the potential and documented impacts. The Port of Vancouver’s Roberts Bank Terminal is a coal port sited in the Fraser River estuary (which has lost eighty-five percent of its salmon habitat) and just miles from Reifel Sanctuary and within the Pacific Flyway, a major marine wildlife management area. In 1997 a second container port opened there, adding more trains. Now, BC and the Canadian government have greenlighted a massive expansion of the port, known as the Robert’s Bank Terminal 2.

Canadian Scientists portray RBT2 intertidal impacts as immediate, permanent, continuous, irreversible and unable to be mitigated, yet in April 2023 the expansion was approved to increase container capacity (and coal and oil shipping) by thirty percent, and doubling the ports current capacity. The expansion is under court challenge by a number of environmental organizations including the Georgia Strait Society and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and has been opposed by a number of Coast Salish tribes including the Lummi Nation.

“The myth of ‘world class oil spill response, prevention, and recovery’ is just that, a myth.”


Nurse Log! Port Renfrew, BC.

At the same time, Canada has approved expansion for the Trans Mountain pipeline that transports heavy crude oil and petroleum from Alberta to… you guessed it … Vancouver and the Salish Sea coastline. First established  in the early 1950’s, this current expansion would triple capacity to nearly 890,000 barrels per day. Given the current and growing issues affecting the Salish Sea, will the combination of expansions for Roberts Bank and Trans Mountain be too much for this wonderful area? I foresee a lot more blocked views, but maybe that won’t matter if the wildlife, landscapes, and environmental quality of the Salish Sea is destroyed forever!



·       What you can do:  If you live in BC and Canada, vote for all species, and get involved directly with the issue. For everyone, financially support the organizations highlighted in this posting (see links above). Here in the US, make sure we vote in the upcoming election. Stop the “Drill, baby, drill” mentality and vote for both common sense and the environment. In case you think this issue doesn’t affect you, know that Canada is the main source for petroleum imported into the US. Oil from Canada greatly increased in the 2010s with the large-scale mining of oil sands. In 2022, Canada was the source of fifty-two percent of US gross total petroleum imports and sixty percent of gross crude oil imports.




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