— Heather Conn photos
Four kayaking companions and I, camped on Jedediah Island on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, joined the June 26 global event Hands Across the Sand to protest offshore oil drilling. From our low-tide beach at Home Bay, we gathered around noon and stretched our hands across a shoreline to support clean energy choices. Like thousands of others around the world, we took this symbolic gesture to draw a line in the sand against the threat that oil drilling poses to coastal economies and the marine environment.
The Hands Across the Sand movement, founded by U.S. resident Dave Rauschkolb, began in Florida on Feb. 13 this year. Thousands of residents across the state, representing 60 towns and cities and more than 90 beaches, joined hands to protest attempts by the Florida and the U.S. governments to lift the ban on oil drilling near and off the state’s shores. The movement created partnerships with major environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and Audubon.
The impetus for the June Hands Across the Sand event, which involved 860 locations, came from the environmental devastation of the ongoing British Petroleum oil spill. The mission of Hands Across the Sand is to draw attention to our global dependence on fossil fuels and adopt policies that encourage renewable energy sources.
At our idyllic location on Jedediah, a marine provincial park, tiny crabs scrabbled in the shallows while dozens of live sand dollars wafted in low waters. By the thousands, oysters and periwinkles covered the sea bed, surrounded by thick clusters of mussels and barnacles on nearby rocks. At low tide, three raccoons hunted for food in the mud while red-footed oyster catchers flew past, screeching like banshees. Ever-present seagulls dropped shellfish onto the beach to break open their food.
With such natural richness hinged to the sea, it was disturbing to imagine how an oil spill in these waters could easily destroy this abundance. While hundreds of thousands of barrels of BP oil continue to pour into the Gulf of Mexico, Chevron is drilling underwater off Newfoundland at almost twice the depth as BP’s rig that blew out.
Meanwhile, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell wants to drill oil off the northwest coast of the province, by the Queen Charlotte Islands. Along with the federal government and Enbridge, he’s poised to create an oil pipeline from Alberta’s Tar Sands to Kitimat, B.C. This would result in oil tankers traversing the province every day through fragile ecosystems and challenging waters in central and northern B.C. (For more details, see my archived feature ”No oil tankers on the B.C. coast” posted Dec. 1, 2009 under “Environment.”)
On a more upbeat note, the abandoned wooden building in the background of this photo is the old homestead on Jedediah that once belonged to the Palmers. Mary and Al Palmer bought the island as a summer holiday destination in 1949, then became full-time residents in 1972. They both farmed the land and cherished the island’s 600 acres, which includes cedar, old-growth fir and arbutus, peaceful bays, and stunning views. Mary was determined to prevent any development. (Palmer describes life on the island, complete with historic family photos, in her book Jedediah Days, a B.C. bestseller published by Harbour Publishing.)
The Palmers worked hard to preserve the island, helped by a province-wide fundraising campaign, started by the late Dan Culver’s Follow Your Dream Foundation. Many groups rallied to raise money to create a park, including Friends of Jedediah, the Marine Parks Forever Society, and the Nature Trust of B.C. Countless individuals and organizations provided financial support, which included $1.1 million from Culver’s estate. The B.C. government donated millions more and the Palmers agreed to sell the island for $4.2 million, far less than its market value. Thanks to their generosity and the dedication of so many donors and volunteer fundraisers, Jedediah Island became a provincial park in 1995.
Now thousands of people can enjoy this unsullied spot every year. A flock of wild sheep still roams the island and several dozen mountain goats, said to be descendants of those left by Spanish explorers, can peer down at you from rocky bluffs. The island has four registered archaeological sites, including a First Nations fish weir.
I took the photo above from Gibraltar, a rocky viewpoint towards the north-central part of the island. A cairn of stones marks the spot with a heavy plastic tube that contains scribbled notes from hikers over the years. Of course, I added a message from our group. Towards the centre of the island, we wandered through forests pastoral and open, without tangles of thick underbrush. We saw the grave of the Palmers’ beloved horse Will, which bears visitors’ strange offerings and detritus from the sea, from a toy car and flattened soccer ball to a plastic marine float. Elsewhere, the island’s open meadows, pungent with mint-like scent, are still home to neglected fruit trees.
Jedediah has frequent patches of startling green moss and clusters of yellow wild flowers. It was wonderful to explore this island and see only a handful of people over several days. Thanks to the Palmers’ vision and commitment to conservation, this quiet wilderness sanctuary will never see development . . .and hopefully, oil will never tarnish its shores.