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Science From the Outside - Hakai Institute

Science From the Outside

An art director’s visit to the Calvert Island Ecological Observatory.

View from the Calvert Island Field Station dock looking east down Kwakshua Channel. Photo by Mark Garrison

It wasn’t exactly sunny, but at least the rain had stopped as we stepped off the boat. After a three-hour slosh across Queen Charlotte Sound, we hopped onto the dock at the Calvert Island Field Station. As we unloaded gear, a seal popped her head up to investigate, cacophonous honks signaled sandhill cranes flying overhead, and ravens skulked in surrounding trees. Welcome to British Columbia’s Central Coast.

I’m the art director for Hakai Magazine*, which, along with the Hakai Institute, is part of the Tula Foundation. The purpose of the trip was to get a chance to meet the extended Hakai family, get a taste of the research that’s happening on Calvert Island, and shoot some photos and video. In short, I was there to try a bit of everything.

One of the first things that struck me was the array of breathtaking landscapes—ahem, I mean, important ecosystems—Calvert Island has to offer. Kwakshua Channel, an arrow-straight body of water, shoots directly east, and is bordered by bare rock up to the high-tide line with thick forest above. Ever-shifting dunes line the outer edge of West Beach, an expansive stretch of powdery sand a few minutes walk from the Institute. South of the grounds, Tsunami Hill is capped with peat moss and spindly conifers that look like Charlie Brown Christmas trees.

In the span of a week, I tagged along with an assortment of research teams to see first-hand a sample of the work that the Hakai Institute does on Calvert Island.

A Hakai research vessel meets up with the NOAA ship Ronald H. Brown to collaborate on cross-border ocean acidification observations off western Calvert Island. Photo by Mark Garrison

I discovered how hard it is to measure live fish as I fumbled them onto the ruler then tried to accurately gauge where their flailing tails ended. I followed “bog scientists” on a squishy, peaty trek and found out how hard it is to shoot steady video as bugs eat your face. The band of red welts across my forehead lasted the rest of my visit, eliciting a “that makes sense” response whenever I told anyone where I’d been.

I bombed around the Central Coast with the dive crew, bobbing at the surface as they retrieved data from submerged temperature loggers. I got up way too early to dig in the sand, shake it through sieves, and count the living things that were left behind. I did my best intrepid-photographer impression; clambering over the roof and bow of a boat shooting photos while a Hakai Institute team did a side-by-side sensor drop with the NOAA ship Ronald H. Brown.

By the end of the week, I gained an appreciation for the tenacity and dedication required in science fieldwork. I even wondered if, had my life progressed a little differently, it might have been something I could have done myself. However, climbing onto the boat to head home, I was also happy to be going back to my family, my own bed, and the comfortable, predictable, and generally dry life of an office job. There are fewer biting bugs there.

*Hakai Magazine is an editorially independent publication covering science and society on the world’s coasts.