Despite its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, Squamish has always felt like more of a mountain town than a seaside town.
“Even though we’ve got Howe Sound right there, I think a lot of people think of us as a mountain town. I was in that same boat, too,” said Minna Koskela-Wild of Blue Mar 4 Change. “Sometimes when we think ocean, we think of long stretches of sand, we think about that surf coming in, and we actually forget about how special Howe Sound is.”
The ocean advocacy group is hoping to shift that perception ahead of the United Nations’ World Oceans Day on June 8, teaming up with My Sea to Sky, Ocean Wise, the Squamish Arts Council, the Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative and the Howe Sound/Átl’ka7tsem Marine Reference Guide to host a range of programming this month that looks to deepen the Sea to Sky’s connection to Howe Sound.
“It’s an opportunity for us to really think about our environment, this amazing Sea to Sky corridor that we live in and our Howe Sound community,” Koskela-Wild said. “We want to broaden our reach and really think about what we can do in our own backyard to make a difference for the oceans.”
The events began last week with the inaugural* Howe Sound Art Challenge, which invited students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 to submit artwork that meets the theme of “Ocean Life.” The winning artwork from each grade will receive a cash prize and be featured in a 2022 school-year calendar. Students will present their art on June 8, from 9 to 10 a.m. The presentation will also feature a special message from Squamish Mayor Karen Elliott and an announcement of the art challenge winners. Check out the submitted art at https://letters.myseatosky.org/competitions/howe-sound-art-challenge/submissions.
Local students have been learning about Howe Sound thanks to a special education kit, Átl’ka7tsem/Txwnéwu7ts/Howe Sound, developed by Ocean Wise Education that includes seven weeks of lesson plans, workbooks and teacher training tools meant to further develop ocean literacy.
“The engagement and education that our World Oceans Day programming brings to the students is inspiring. It is fostering a generation of ocean advocates for years to come, and it’s been a privilege to be a part of it from the beginning,” said World Oceans Day team volunteer Anne MacKenzie in a release.
From 7 to 8 p.m. on Monday, June 7, the Marine Reference Guide invites the public to Celebrate Howe Sound/Átl’ka7tsem 2.0, where they will learn more about Howe Sound through the virtual launch of two online maps. The first is an interactive tool three years in the making that helps visualize how people, industry and marine life use the area. “It’s really helping to lift the veil of the ocean surface,” said Gibsons-based project director Fiona Beaty.
The interactive map’s main use, she said, is for marine spatial planning and to help inform decision-making in areas that include ecological health, as well as economic, social and cultural values. It can also help identify conflicting uses, such as between sensitive habitat and industrial activity or a tourism hotspot, in an effort to protect not only the environment, but also access and livelihoods.
A second map shows a community network of all the people and groups in the area, including the stakeholders and rights holders, “like a visual directory,” Beaty said. “We use the map to show who is doing what, where.”
The following day, June 8, from 7 to 8:15 p.m., the Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative will host Glass Sponge Reefs and the Amazing Underwater World in Howe Sound with Sheila Byers, marine biologist with the Marine Life Sanctuaries Society, who will be discussing Howe Sound’s ancient glass sponge reefs and the diversity of marine life that rely on them.
For more information, and to register for any of the events on offer, head to howesoundbri.org/latest-news/2021/5/7/world-oceans-day-2021-in-howe-sound.
-With files from Keili Bartlett, courtesy of The Coast Reporter
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated it was the third annual Howe Sound Art Challenge. It is in fact the first year for the event.