Monday, November 11, 2013

The Waters of Howe Sound

What an inspiring sight it must have been for those sailors aboard the surveying ships of the last century as they edged into Howe Sound or numerous other coastal inlets. Many of their impressions have become part of official ship's logs. No doubt there would have been many stories to tell on their return home but unfortunately only of those scenes observed above the waves. But what of the mysteries below? Science fiction writers like Jules Verne had hinted at the possibilities of underwater exploration but only today can we see what wonders are indeed available to us with the help of technology such as SCUBA.

During my University years I was introduced to the environment beneath the surface and to this day I am still amazed at the diversity and formidable beauty that exists there for all who would venture forth. Whenever one wades in from a shore or rolls off the side of a boat there is a door which opens into a new and different world; a world with its own rules, needs and systems.

The cold waters of our Pacific Northwest are full of nutrients brought down by rivers laden with the essential minerals necessary for the growth of microscopic plant life which in turn provides the basis of the ocean food chains. Howe Sound is ,for example, a model for this process. This is reflected up and down our coast in every inlet that has rivers and streams running into it. In our own inlet light from the sun reaches through the shallows to nurture the plants and in every estuary a nursery of new life spills its rich bounty into the endless ebb and flow of the ocean.

Oh yes, oftentimes, a microscope is what is needed to appreciate these small beginnings but many of us find larger "beasties" more exciting. These we do have in Howe Sound, including some creatures of great beauty and size.

As the estuarine bottom life and swimming creatures merge into the bodies of the larger consumers further out in the Sound we see an increasing diversity of form and size which sets the stage for a showcase of underwater wonder. So let us at random visit some of these performers in our play beneath the waves.

Just a few tens of meters below the surface can be seen creatures that are not familiar to the shore explorer and a glimpse of them requires special equipment, both for sustained underwater breathing
and for insulation from our very very cool water. Most divers feel it a great privilege to be able to visit the domain of the largest species of octopus in the world or to play with six foot eels in front of their rocky dens.

As one would imagine, much of Howe Sound's bottom is covered with a thick layer of silt brought down by the river and might seem an unattractive place to pursue the sport of SCUBA diving but it is here that many fascinating creatures dwell. The new diver on his first lesson at Porteau cove may encounter the Dungeness crab which often graces our restaurant table but there are other more exotic forms to behold further out on the current swept rocky reefs and on the craggy spurs which project out from the shoreline. One of the richest spots are the Islands in the middle of the sound such as Pam rocks, Defense Islands and Cristie Islet. Here stalks the giant octopus which can reach a full eight metres span in a mere lifetime of four years. Though they are large and truly awe inspiring to encounter , they are gentle creatures and harmless to man. As a mollusk it is surprising that they have much intelligence. The proportion of their central nervous system to their body mass is the greatest of the animals without back bones. Both octopus and Squid have an ability to change colour in an instant to match their surroundings. It is interesting to note that this ability far surpasses the chameleon. It is also amazing that a mother octopus will guard her eggs in her den without feeding until all are hatched-she will then die of starvation.

Many of the smaller creatures of the reef are adept at camouflage and mimicry . One that particularly comes to mind is the decorator crab which collects pieces of seaweed and shell fragments to festoon his body in order to merge into the background, perhaps avoiding the marauding octopus or prowling rockfish. There are sea-slugs called Nudibranchs which show a variety of forms and demonstrate fascinating survival tricks. With generic names taken from Greek mythology such as Aphrodite, Eolis and Doris. Many steal the stinging cells from sea anemones by eating the owner and incorporating the arsenal into their tissues. In this way they protect their soft bodies from an obvious fate. The giant Nudibranch reaching a length of a foot or more can swim with the grace of a Spanish dancer and may swallow a burrowing sea anemone in an instant. Vulnerable creatures which have soft, unprotected bodies may display warning colours which may be associated with an unpleasant taste or poisonous effect. Patterns of orange and black are common in many Nudibranchs and there is evidence that this does help them discourage would be predators. Some other animals, like the Pacific red Sea Urchins, have a rather more pointed way of protecting themselves!

There are animals which exhibit bizarre behavior in their strivings to escape their enemies. The swimming Scallop is a wonderful example which behaves like a set of snapping dentures when a shadow passes over. This clam has many blue eyes and its two shells will clap together as it seems to purposely swim towards its foe in a threatening manner. Sea cucumbers squirm when faced with the oncoming odor of its arch enemy, the sunflower starfish. And of course it is well known that the octopus sets up its "ink screen" when faced with a real threat.

It is a gift of nature to be able literally to sit and watch these events in the apparent weightless state provided by the physics of immersion, without the artificiality of the aquarium. At every turn one realizes the scope for future research as well as the obvious fragility of the ocean environment. Howe Sound has gone through many traumas over these past years and we hope that there is the beginning of a concerted effort towards conservation in our area. Life forms which I have observed to have been waning in numbers over the past ten to fifteen years, appear to be actually on the increase again. However, one cannot be certain of the reasons without some further scientific investigation. Lingcod have been on the decline and the Fisheries did bring in some recent control measures. These may be working, as many of my diver friends have reported more sightings. They are much smaller than they used to be but let us hope that we can return to the state of twenty years ago when 50-60lb specimens were common here.

It is also interesting to watch the territorial behavior of this species particularly during the winter breeding season. The male guards the clutch of eggs until they hatch and will even lunge toward a diver if he/she gets too close. They have a set of very sharp teeth which has convinced me to respect any fish over ten to fifteen pounds. Their Latin name is Ophiodon which means snake-tooth! Many other species of fish abound in the area; some large like the Salmon or the five foot Mud Shark and some very small like the Bullheads, Gobies and Blennies. Some are more colourful than others but each has some unique quality that only has to be noticed to be appreciated. all you have to do is be patient and pause a while. Some of my best dives were when I remained still or almost still in a very small area rather that rushing about and thereby using up valuable air too quickly. For example, on a dive on Boyer Island reef a couple of years ago I observed a deep sea variety of fish known as a Lancet fish that had come up from the deeper regions . This fish was about six feet long ,snake-like, silver and had a sail resembling a Marlin. It also had long thin sharp teeth. What if I had been swimming too fast and had missed this one!

Never let it be said that there is not beauty in our own underwater backyard- a beauty which rivals some tropical areas. There is a garden like quality to some of our reefs which sport huge sea anemones reaching height of 3-4 feet. Some, like the White Plumose Anemone, form ghostly groves, resembling Grecian columns, standing majestically in the current. They are deceptive in one sense since they are armed to the hilt with thousands of sting cells all ready to paralyze their prey.
These seductive snares will later digest their meal at leisure. Other relatives of the anemones called sea pens, feed in the same way but are orange and get their name from a feather-quill appearance.

Close by there is so much to see, worth preserving. Here in the Sea to sky country we have immeasurable, growing, living fascinating resource; the value of which, we are only beginning to realize. Let's keep learning. 

Jellyfish Bloom in Howe Sound November 2013

                                                 
It has been noticed that recently there has been a bloom of Jellyfish in Howe Sound near Squamish. Many have been seeking an explanation.

 This is the Moon jellyfish (Aurelia). It feeds on any floating organic matter which can range from decaying flotsam such as the left overs from fish like our pink salmon, pollution from humans like sewage, to natural seasonal plankton. They are common all up our coast, including pristine waters.

Their population is greatest in the fall where they are found feeding on the phytoplankton/zooplankton bloom. However the plankton bloom can be especially high where there is an extra amount of suspended organic matter in the water. And yes their population can increase with an increase in water temperature. Remember that we have had an unusually warm summer and fall temperatures this year....They are in greatest numbers in the fall rather than in the spring because of the higher ocean lag temperature..... So the reason is complex and may or may not be a cause for alarm, given all these factors!

We are not always the culprit and nature has still lots of checks and balances. She/he has been at it for a very long time.



Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Climate Change

Climate Change, Global Warming and all that!                                                       September 2013


The simplicity is to stop digging up all fossil fuels EVERYWHERE. Stop clearing forests and quit messing up the carbon-sink abilities of the oceans. The complexity is that this would overnight cause the demise of what we glibly call "Civilization'. There would be mass starvation, as the infrastructures of most of the Countries of the world collapse and wars would occur all over, to the extent we can hardly imagine. Our planet would, however, shrug her shoulders and contently carry on without our interference once we have destroyed ourselves.
So what can we do?
Naively, many say we should really work at sustainable energy resources such as wind power, hydro, and solar, while reducing the use of fossil fuels to a minimum .
But who are “WE”….Unfortunately this includes, beside ourselves, China, Russia, America and a whole host of Nations whose insatiable appetite for burning stuff and cutting down stuff will not abate.
GRIM. I guess you and I can sit on our donkeys and "tilt at windmills" (so to speak) for the rest of our lives! And don’t forget to stop paying your Carbon Tax or not!

In short:
I would gladly put a windmill on every one of my tall trees, cover all my roofs with solar panels and lobby for same on every available space nearby. I would buy an electric car and hope to, somehow, be able to charge the battery. Also I would dig up all my garden space to grow my own food. And for those who know me (don’t laugh), I would have chickens, ducks, pigs and goats in my back yard too!
BUT that ain’t gonna happen guys because I could never afford it....and, anyway the neighbours would likely object to the noise of the windmills. The wildlife people would object to the potential for frightening the birds and most people would complain about the aesthetics of my venture.
So, I continue to buy gas for my car, run my house on mostly natural gas and
a little electricity. I watch the stock market to see that my shares in gas and oil keep going up and live with it.

What about the rest of you? I guess we are all stuck with the way things are going , eh?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


 
On Backyard Chickens...Further viewpoints July 2013
 
If there is a “trial” in Squamish, let's make sure that the District is fully prepared to follow through with the policing/control aspect of all this. During the “trial” I am sure this would be done but later, due to obvious fiscal constraints, things will inevitably fall back. The very best example of this is the pitiful Dog Control bylaw and its lack of application.

The wildlife attractant aspect remains as important and particularly in R1 Zoned urban areas this will be a problem…counter to all the efforts of Bear aware.
You can put your chicken coops in the equivalent of Fort Knox but the bears and coyotes will still come sniffing around . And, one successful break-in due to lack of vigilance will undo years of work by B.A. preventative measures. Any meaningful trial will restrict householders to about five hens. Their efficient egg laying lifespan will be about four years and then they will have to be replaced to ensure continued “food security”.
Nowadays it is technically illegal for ordinary people to simply bonk the birds on the head. They will have to be euthanized (legally) by a vet…..costly. The type of chicken food for the best production includes fish-meal and this is smelly and not cheap.
A meaningful trial should involve full permission from neighbors on both sides of the property, otherwise there will be battles which could get nasty!
LEAVE CHICKEN REARING TO RURAL AREAS IN OUR VALLEY and buy your eggs from them. Such a “can of worms”, I think.
Oh yes, for the “educational experience” of the kiddies, have them watch their pets be put down after four or five years!....Hmmm.

Development north of Garibaldi Highlands and the need for a new access road to Garibaldi Highlands.     (Dave Colwell July 2013)

 

We have needed and long awaited a new access road to Garibaldi Highlands.

 
At present we have 3: Highlands Way South, Skyline Drive and an unpaved road which runs from the Squamish Golf course to, and past, the backside of Quest University.

 
Highlands Way South is the most used by residents of the Highlands and also by far too many heavy duty vehicles. The latter cannot efficiently use Skyline Drive due to its sharp turns and some other factors. For example, there is also an ongoing safety issue regarding any heavy use of this road since steep driveways feed down onto it and the visibility is ,in many cases, inadequate. Residents have complained and traffic calming devices have been tried for several years.

 
All heavy duty traffic going to Quest should use the unpaved road mentioned but many don't bother, preferring the smoother route , I suppose. The noise and shaking due to the traffic on H.W.S. has become severe due to increased local construction. It should also be noted that there has been damage done to the east roundabout on the boulevard which has not been repaired for around two years. There is also considerable cracking of the tarmac near the expansion joints of the bridge to Quest which has been roughly  patched and this may be due to increased heavy traffic since the bridge was built.

 
We need another access route soon. I note recent discussion of a  proposed development of 98 acres north of GH with a veiled promise of a new North Road. But it seems there is resistance to this idea from Councillors Heintzman and Raiser who sight infrastructure costs and projected road maintenance costs.

 

Let us all hope that this will not all grind to a halt and be bogged down in the ubiquitous red tape we have hindering the running of this town.

It should be pointed out that there is expediential construction proceeding at this time at Quest and there is considerable land "ear-marked" for future development to the north of the campus.  

 
I reiterate: All construction vehicles travelling to and from this area should not use H.W.S. or go over the Mashiter bridge at the end of the Boulevard.  In past years there has been perfunctory "directional policing" of such traffic  but this seems to have lapsed recently.  I therefore implore Council to look into this as soon as possible.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


Squamish Streamkeepers Update-The herring are in.
An interesting article from Jack Cooley (Squamish Streamkeepers)
 
This organization has done so much over the last few years to aid in the return of herring to our area....Well done guys and gals!
            
On Friday, February 2nd,  the Streamkeepers went to the Squamish Terminals East Dock to put in two float lines for herring to spawn upon. Their timing couldn’t have been better as the myriad of seagulls wheeling off the south end of the Terminals showed that the herring had already spawned on the intertidal bladderwrack there. With the lowering of the afternoon tide, the seagulls were getting to feast on the exposed herring caviar. No doubt a welcome treat in mid winter.

            The 200 pilings that had been wrapped with safe spawning materials since 2006 had also received a light early spawn which should increase dramatically through February and March and even into early April.

The last few years the Streamkeepers had put out one 350 foot floatline, but this year the float lines were more than doubled that to 850 feet. There are several advantages to float lines over wrapped pilings. First, since the herring can spawn on both sides of a floatline, the spawning surface area is doubled. Second, Since the float line goes up and down with the tide, the eggs lain on the float lines are never exposed to surface elements such as frost, sun, wind and floating surface contaminants. Last year many of the wrapped intertidal piling eggs died while the subtidal float line eggs and the nearby intertidal bladderwrack eggs survived, indicating there had been an unidentified surface contaminate under the dock last year. Therefore the decision was made that this year the expansion of herring spawning aids would be limited to sub surface materials, that is expansion of the float lines until it is certain that there is no surface contaminants under the dock that could kill intertidal eggs.

As always, a big crew makes for lighter work, and this year we had the biggest crew so far. Cal Hartnell, Jen Smalley, Brad Ray, Ana Santos, Patrick MacNamara, Lyle Wood, John Rodgers (Alaskan visitor), Mike Pawluk, Eric Andersen, Jonn Matsen, and Jack Cooley. The next step will involve routine monitoring of the herring spawn and it’s hatch out quantity and quality, followed by pulling and hosing down the float lines in mid April.       

            Many thanks to Squamish Terminals for their ongoing support in bringing back the herring to Howe Sound.

 

 

 


 




   Cleveland/Hwy.99....Entrance to Squamish Downtown......Roundabout?  (Jan 2013)


Recently, I sent this to the District of Squamish:

 "This is an unusual enquiry regarding your possible input to the Dept. of Highways about the future design of this intersection. Traffic flow is always an issue with regard to Highway design. Here we have an intersection which is potentially very dangerous and which deals with a lot of traffic most of the time. There, recently, has been much discussion about the ease of access to Downtown.

In Europe and other parts of the world Roundabouts have been employed to solve many of these traffic flow problems albeit not so much here. I believe that this concept should be explored more.

We now have three roundabouts in our District which, I realise, are not under the control of the Highways Dept. These, I think, are succesful (even though the GH ones are a bit too tight). A roundabout at the entrance to town would facilitate both general traffic flow and make an easier 1st exit priority entrance to toward Downtown.

 In short, I believe that Council should discuss the possibility of contacting the Dept. of Highways regarding this after some discussion of the feasibility of this concept. And don't be squeamish Guys...They really do work!!...I am really tired of waiting and waiting to make a turn. Such can lead to impatience and dangerous subsequent eratic reponse. This same thing applies at the Park Royal intersection...Really really bad. Eccentric?...Well we have to start somewhere."

I have had further discussions with the District Engineering Dept. and they are investigating this suggestion. The BC Dept. of Highways has, in the past, been reluctant to pursue this idea but there are actually a few in use on our main highways so the possibilty is still alive for further discussion.
For a model there is one near Whiterock and there is a good one on 16th. Ave UBC...though this is not actually on a main highway (abeit very busy). Do a "Google Earth" and you will find them. Please comment on this and do your own action/enquiries if you see fit.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


      Squamish....A perception   (Dave Colwell  Jan.2013)

 

If there is a problem with the layout of our District, it lies with its History and the related Geography;  not primarily with its modern-day planners and developers.

We all live in a valley which was carved out by glacial action more than 8000 years ago. For a long time it has been  home to Salish First Nation People who continue to live along the river from Cheekye to  Howe Sound . They were never concentrated in one single place in the valley but rather in settlements separated according to their needs and available resources along the river.

 
Then We came. The mouth of the estuary was a little further up the valley in the late 19th. century. The land was beginning to be farmed and the logging industry was evolving as the early settlers cut trees  to build their essential structures and later sell the wood to the outside. Brackendale became a bit of an agricultural  hub and the estuary naturally  became a port to enable travel to Vancouver and for shipping wood. There was no really good road south in the very early years. Soon the railway came as the settlements grew and this began to segment the valley, fanning  out close to the estuary.

 
The rough social demography of what we have now slowly emerged. Brackendale remained and expanded slowly as did the community around the port and arable lands just back from the ever advancing estuary. 

 
These two communities, separated by the transversely  flowing  Mamquam river form the nuclei of what we have today and unfortunately what some now call a "sprawl". When you have two communities close together there will always be growth between as there will be a road (or in our case also a railway). And it's always easier to build in already cleared areas... namely alongside these communication corridors. This process has inevitably happened here and speeded up recently. Some say this is a bad thing but can we turn it back and change it?

 
The legacy that this history and geography has left us is a "Downtown" cut and sliced by river, sloughs and railway  lines. The railway owns the land through which it passes, posing restrictions on would-be developers also the river and sloughs inexorably try to change their courses. Road builders like easy,  purposeful routes to connect A to B to C etc. so the end result might not always mesh perfectly with existing communities along the way. Meanwhile the population grows with all the needs for service. The more the population grows, the more arguments  ensue regarding the right direction to take.

 
In short, "(Squamish) ,we have a problem"....at least in the perception held by many. Some want heavy industry, some light. Some don't like amenities near the highway; some don't care. Some want a cultural centre in one place...in our case , the old "Downtown". But we all need services for our family needs; and for our expanding population these must have space. The question is: Is there now enough space downtown?...I think not.  Whatever stores are placed there will never provide for all the needs of our present valley population. Always remember that this older town site is vulnerable to flooding and this is one of the reasons for so many later sub-divisions  being built on higher ground such as Hospital Hill and Garibaldi Highlands. I will have my boat launch ready when the sea levels rise!

 
Anyway, I am happy with situation as it is and often look sideways to the snow capped mountains to realise how lucky I am. I rarely HAVE TO drive to Vancouver to shop and Squamish is a great compromise between Rural and Big City life. ...Good discussions too!

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Strip-Malls, Bed-Room Communities ...such  evils!      Squamish BC  Jan.24th.2013

So much is written about the evils of "Strip-Malls" and "Bed-Room Communities". Actually I find the continued objection to both rather tiresome.

By definition, I understand a strip-mall to be a linear group of businesses running parallel and immediately close to a highway. Well people need to shop and may have to drive to get to their shops. The land adjacent to many highways  is often not really suitable to other uses. In Squamish we have a strip mall which is under a string of power lines. I would not like to live there but I don't mind shopping there. Most Strip-malls are well landscaped, as the above one is. They are very convenient to the people who live near-by...so what's the problem?

And "Bed-Room Communities"....Places where lots of people live but don't work.   So people have to travel away from their communities to their place of employment... Big deal!  They can still contribute to their community and the community can still foster business and industry. In the past years when Squamish had heavier industry there were still people who drove to Vancouver or Whistler to work.

So let it be and stop complaining. We are only an hour from Vancouver so what do you expect? Maybe some of these "Bedroom  C."  guys will come up with an idea for a business which will start to employ people in our town...it has happened.

All this being said, I am sure the "Green" view on this will arise. Greenhouse gases from all those commuting cars...yea, yea.... but the world is not stopping oil, coal and gas exploration, or it's exploitation. Likely  this will not happen until the supplies are used up. So in the meantime,  car-pool and support electric car research. There are buses too but they need to be filled. Also, the more strip malls we have, the less I will need to go to Vancouver to shop...I am retired!