Like most Vancouverites I derive much wellbeing from recreating in the great outdoors that surround our beautiful city. Since I was young, I've valued the opportunities provided by our local mountains for skiing, our old-growth forests for hiking, and the ocean for swimming.
Over the past few years, I have a discovered growing enthusiasm for ocean swimming. The activity revitalizes my mind, body and spirit, all in one activity. One day I discovered that Tower Beach is the most beautiful beach in Vancouver, with the cleanest water, and so I started undertaking long distance swims from there.
However, this Spring the water is polluted with toxic bunker fuel and no one is allowed to swim there. On April 8th >2000 L of toxic bunker fuel spilled from a ship and swimming may be a danger to our health (City of Vancouver's report). I would like to know when we can go back and swim at our beaches? However, I have bigger questions, which revolve around the value of our local beaches and recognizing the critical benefits we derive from recreating along Greater Vancouver's spectacular shore.
Namely, What is the opportunity cost of not being able to swim? Who is compensating us for lost opportunities? The answer is that no one is paying for the opportunity cost of this terrible accident. The cost associated with the spill has been externalized, which means that neither the polluter, the city, nor the clean up crew will pay the true cost. The true cost is spread across over 2 million Vancouverites who cannot access the cultural values, such as recreation, in high demand from our marine environment.
The purpose of this post is to illustrate the costs of lost swimming through a narrative. It's a story about the high value that myself and likely many others attribute to swimming in the ocean around Vancouver.
This is the story of my first swim from Tower Beach:
I emerged from the forest to see that the tide was in and that choppy waves were lapping right up to the edge of forest. This meant that the shore was impassable for hiking, but for swimming the high tide would be fine. In fact, this seemed quite exciting because as I jumped in to the water and began swimming north I knew that I was committed to the swim. The next exit point from the water was 1.3 km away.
I traversed along shoreline peering down into the clear turquoise water, which felt smooth and fresh on my skin. I recalled a blog entry by Peter Scott, local ocean swimming guru, that advised ocean swimmers let their hands gleam along the surface of the water while bringing their hands forward to start another stroke. This was a method to help sense the waves and adjust one's swim to the ever-changing rhythms of the ocean. I tried this and just as the Scott suggested, I could better sense the waves. I sank into an efficient stroke, heading dead straight and timed to the rhythm of the ocean.
Such efficient swimming and unexpected comfort in the choppy sea was a novel feeling for me and I became mindful of my fluid movements and wonderfully content in my activity. Suddenly, swimming felt as natural as running or climbing a tree. I admit that I even imagined myself as a giant fish, whale or seal. Some creature native to the marine environment. I passed Acadia Beach, which marked the 1.3 km point but I was feeling good so I decided to continue on.
At one point I looked up from my swim towards the shore, which was full of people swimming and picnicking. A classic Vancouver site. Suddenly, a big black cormorant jumped up from the sea. He had allowed me to swim almost right next to him! Smiling from this I turned around to see that just behind me, perhaps following me, was a seal. In great detail I could see his whiskers, eyes and glistening grey skin. I could even hear his deep raspy breath. Astonishingly, We were only about 4-5 meters apart! We observed each other for what must have been over 30 seconds before he gasped a deep breath and disappeared into the water below me.
I swam into shore at Anchor beach (1.9 km from my starting point) then jogged back to Tower Beach in bare feet. As I arrived back at my starting point it was just in time to watch a fiery red sun disappear behind the mountains of Vancouver Island. As I watched this, I felt content. A deep sense of peacefulness and satisfaction with my experience renewed me. It was as if I had just spent days alone in nature. I had discovered a sense of comfort while swimming, and that feeling stayed with me as I watched the sunset. This feeling stayed noticeably with me for many days to follow, despite the fact that they were busy work days back in the lab at UBC.
About one week later I had an amazing revelation about that comfort I had experienced in the ocean.
This revelation occurred while I was listening to a very wise man, Rueben George of the Tsleil-waututh First Nation, speak of his First Nations's connection to the ocean. He accounted an annual canoe journey done collectively by aboriginal peoples all along the BC coast. Rueben told the audience of a common sentiment he and other First Nations paddlers shared. He explained that their time on the ocean permitted them a sense of spiritual oneness with the sea that revitalizes their spirits and fills them with a long-lasting sense of strength.
To his people the ocean supplied spiritual inspiration and the well-being of his people. In my travels of coastal BC I had learned of the importance of the ocean for coastal First Nation's subsistence but I never understood the spiritual connection between humans and the sea.
I left with a new perspective of my relationship with the sea and the implications of how the proposed pipeline could affect my own and our city's collective well-being.
The long-term, pressing effect from this pipeline will be its contribution to climate change; the pipeline will export 86.4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per annum, which is much more than all of BC's current within-province emissions of 64 million tonnes; learn more here: UBCC350. Climate change is a critical concern, but the short-term, localized threat of an bitumen spill is an erosion of our health as a city. Vancouver is considered one of the most desirable places to live in the world. It is blessed with natural beauty and outdoor recreation that rivals any city on earth. Our healthy environment sustains the health of our minds, spirits and economy. As Vancouverites, our cultural identities are explicitly linked to the environment that surrounds us
As I write this, Vancouver beaches are closed for swimming. The costs of this for cultural values, such as recreation opportunities and our cultural identities as Vancouverites, are externalized. Now its really clear to me. Even a spill that is relatively trivial in size compared to a tanker spill is disrupting the cultural benefits we derive from the ocean. Externalities are common but some are more concerning than other. I emphasize that the impacts of oil spills to the cultural values we derive from the ocean surrounding are of significant concern to more than two million local residents.
Unfortunately, during this past spill there have been no efforts to compensate for the loss of these cultural values. Furthermore, I want Vancouverites to be aware that consideration of these cultural values, or strategies to mitigate oil spill impacts on them are absent from the Trans Mountain Pipeline Environmental Assessment.
|A sceniuc shore traverse from Tower Beach to Anchor beach|