Our Ocean Higher Ed

Academics descended upon Ucluelet last week for a two-day Oceans Workshop hosted by North Island College and held at the Ucluelet Aquarium.

The four presenters NIC brought to Ucluelet spoke to locally hot topics both relevant and controversial to West Coast residents. Dr. Jay Cullen from UVic’ s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences addressed radiation associated with the Fukushima disaster, Dr. Bradley Buckham spoke to the West Coast Wave Initiative, Dr. Craig Stephen presented on reconciling the divorce between nature and humanity, and Dr. Stephen Cross discussed sustainable aquaculture.

Sandra Milligan, an NIC biology instructor, welcomed the aquarium’s audience and delivered high accolades to local NIC staffer Bill Morrison who along with NIC’s math science department chair Christine Hodgson hatched the idea of the workshop and pushed hard to see it come to fruition.

“Bill wanted to give Ucluelet the gift of listening to academic speakers in their home community,” Milligan said.

Morrison was stoked to see his plan come together and the aquarium filled with an interested and concerned audience.

“To West Coast residents Fukushima, aquaculture, and wave energy aren’t abstract, they’re very real. If the impacts are going to be felt anywhere in BC they’re going to be felt here first,” he said. “What better way to understand the science and inform the debate than to learn firsthand from people at the forefront of the research?” Milligan likened the upcoming presentations to an episode of “Ideas” on CBC Radio.

“I feel that sense of calmness and openness and excitement because I know I’m about to have my brain really rattled by some amazing and wonderful ideas that will stay with me for a long time to come,” she said. “I hope you’re starting to feel that excitement as well for what we’re going to be hearing.”

One group feeling that excitement was Kevin Nixon’s Grade 12 Sustainability Studies and Geography students.

“All of our West Coast communities have a deep connection to the ocean and its health. A healthy ocean environment translates into healthy communities. Many students in both classes have family members who rely on our ocean for subsistence. Ultimately they are curious to learn more about it,” Nixon said.

“It is exciting to have some many leading experts in their fields come to speak and perhaps one of the presenters will help “ignite” the spark for a student who in the future may venture into a similar field of study.”

Ucluelet Aquarium curator and former NIC student Laura Griffith-Cochrane was thrilled to see locally relevant scientific debate take place in the aquarium.

“Everyone here has a relationship to the ocean,” she said. “In a town this size we don’t always have those conversations with our neighbours because they’re controversial. This is a neutral place to raise the debate and hear the science behind the issues.”

The workshop was co-sponsored by NIC, the Ucluelet Aquarium and the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust.

“Our communities benefit from the high caliber of scientists who visit the West Coast,” said CBT’s managing director Rebecca Hurwitz. “As an organization, we focus on the connection of people and place. Scientific research helps us understand this connection and these presentations will fuel many conversations about sustainable development.”

The Oceans workshop attracted out of town students as well as about 17 Langara College students arrived to take it in.

“It’s great to participate,” said the students’ biology instructor Cam Mac-Donald. “It shows how relevant science is to small communities and adds an academic aspect to our field school.”

North Island College has been delivering higher education opportunities on the West Coast through its Ucluelet campus that brings University studies, industry skills, and academic upgrading opportunities to locals.

Last year, NIC launched a first-year university-level English course in Tofino.

Morrison has his sights set on bringing locally relevant discussions on other topics like tourism, business, arts, and sciences to the West Coast in the future.

“Bill Morrison is a one-man campus,” Milligan said. “He is one amazing guy.”

Upcoming articles in the Our Ocean series in the Westerly News will take a closer look at the Oceans Workshop.