August 20th , 2013
By Rosie Child
Last week, Megan Adams, Kyle Artelle, Nate Glickman, and I from the ACS Lab had the opportunity to join the Raincoast Conservation Foundation aboard their research boat, Achiever, to one of the most extraordinary places I have ever been. The Koeye River Culture and Science Camp is run by the Heiltsuk Nation`s Qqs Projects Society and blends culture, science and fun. In the capable hands of Captain Brian Falconer and crew, we traveled from Port McNeill to Koeye to take part in one of a series of week-long immersion camps that take place each year. As resource people, supported by Let`s Talk Science, we got to spend the week with a fantastic group of children exploring science hands-on, learning about all the coast has to offer and how important it is to conserve it. We also learned a great deal about Heiltsuk culture.
We spent the week with the kids both on land and water, bridging the gap between marine and terrestrial domains and learning about the interconnections between the two. One day stood out for me. With a group of 8 campers and counselors, we canoed up the Koeye River estuary, looking for our namesake species that start with the same letter as our names (Kingfisher Kyle did notably better than Nudibranch Nate and Rockfish Rosie). After paddling as far as we could go, we continued upriver on foot, learning about terrestrial plants and animals as we went (edible berries were a highlight, which the kids were also able to identify in bear scat along the trail). After our hike we stopped for snacks, which the campers earned through a “provisioning game” that showed the different reproductive strategies of different species and the trade-offs associated with each. Luckily the tide was dropping as we paddled back so our tired arms were given a break after a long day of fun.
On the last day on land, we hosted an intertidal scavenger hunt that highlighted the rich diversity of species on the coast. The hunt was such a hit that only the lunch bell could put an end to the number of species that were found.
Camp counselors from the Heiltsuk Nation paddling up the Koeye River estuary.
A camper that found sea urchins in all sizes and colours during the intertidal scavenger hunt. Photo by Megan Adams.
When not on land, the campers had the opportunity to explore the ocean on the Achiever, simulating marine mammal and seabird survey transects using the viewing platform and hand-held radios. These surveys were suspended a number of times when whales were spotted by sharp-eyed campers. When this happened, we sat back while the whales put on a show and Brian shared with everyone his wealth of knowledge about the marine world. Learning about whale feeding ecology came to life when we spotted and collected a whale poo sample! Unfortunately, the campers also had a very real opportunity to learn about the dangers that commercial fishing can pose for whales trying to navigate the ocean when we spotted a humpback whale entangled in some fishing gear.
Camper capturing a humpback sighting on camera.
A humpback whale with fishing gear caught on its tail fluke.
What struck me from this fantastic week, which was easily the highlight of my summer, is that I learnt so much more than I taught; from the campers, the counselors, my fellow team members, and the camp organizers. From bear safety and paddling skills, to Heiltsuk words for the species we found on the beach and cultural uses for the plants and animals we learnt about, I am so grateful to everyone at Qqs and Raincoast for inviting us to be a part of this incredible experience.