Life on an island is something that most of us dream about. The beautiful beaches, relaxed lifestyle, and tight-knit community may be a welcome change from the fast-paced city life that many of us are used to. The truth is that nearly one million B.C. residents are already living this dream, whether it’s on Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii, or any of the hundreds of islands along the coast.

Living on an island comes with a responsibility to take care of that special place. With 100,000 chemicals on the market, countless end-of-pipe discharges, ocean pollution originating from multiple sources, and over seven million people living on the shores of the Salish Sea, this is a big topic for islanders in British Columbia.

Ocean pollution research has identified B.C.’s killer whales as among the most PCB contaminated marine mammals in the world. Killer whales are vulnerable because they sit atop the ocean food chain, have long lives, and are unable to readily get rid of these persistent contaminants. Fortunately, PCBs and many related compounds have been banned in Canada and are now covered by an international treaty, the Stockholm Convention.

Vancouver Aquarium Ocean Pollution Research

Killer whales in B.C. are showing high levels of toxins.

Regulating those chemicals that magnify in killer whale food webs is only part of the story. There are many currently used pesticides, detergents, plasticizers, pharmaceuticals and microplastics that enter waterways and can harm invertebrates and fish at the lower levels of the food web. Chinook salmon, the primary food preference for resident killer whales, can be harmed by a variety of pollutants in their aquatic habitat.

Many island communities have leveraged the education and conservation programs from the Vancouver Aquarium to bring people together for these important issues. The Saturna Island Marine Research and Education Society (SIMRES) invited myself and Vancouver Aquarium ocean pollution scientist, Dr. Peter Ross, to join them for a special presentation. This passionate community has organized numerous SEATalks featuring prominent marine researchers from all over British Columbia and Washington State in an effort to learn more about their island, their ecosystem, and their responsibility to protect it.

Vancouver Aquarium Ocean Pollution Research

Dr. Peter Ross and Nicole Cann share learnings with SIMRES group. Photo Credit: Lindsday Curtis.

We as individuals have the power to educate ourselves about what’s out there and then make smart choices every day in our lives. Thankfully there are a number of aides for this process including the Beat the Micro Bead app that can help you avoid products with dangerous microplastics in them and the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise website and app to help you ensure that all of your seafood meals are sustainable ones. When it comes to your home there are no shortage of environmentally friendly cleaners available and the Georgia Strait Alliance’s Toxic Smart program can show you how to make your own from products you probably already have in your home.

The ways in which we can all help this world are endless and our friends at SIMRES are encouraging islanders to do just that. We could all benefit from thinking of our planet as one big island rather than only trying to care for our tiny part of it. The more we ask questions, the more we take action, and the more we let our leaders know what’s important to us – the better off this big island of ours is going to be.

Blog post submitted by Nicole Cann, Vancouver Aquarium manager of Interpretive Delivery.

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