Pink Salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) up river to spawn,  Great Bear Rainforest, British Colombia, Canada

behind the photograph: Salmon Posse

Posted on August 12, 2012

The Great Bear Rainforest (GBR) on Canada’s west coast is one of the few places left in the world where a wild landscape meets a wild ocean. Bears and wolves feed side by side with Orcas, humpback whales and sea lions in one of the last in-tact, coastal temperate rainforests on earth. Today, this unique seascape, which currently has a ban on tankers, is under threat. A 1,000-kilometer long oil pipeline has been proposed to pierce through the heart of the rainforest from the Alberta tar sands to the Pacific Ocean.  Transporting the oil to Asia requires large supertankers (roughly as long as the Empire State building is tall) to navigate some of the most treacherous waterways in the world.  It is not a question of IF an oil spill will occur, but when, where and how large.

I have visited this unique seascape frequently over the past three years in order to illuminate the incomparable aquatic biodiversity. Salmon are the keystone species for all life in the Great Bear Rainforest. Every summer they abandon their life at sea and return to the rivers to spawn. I wanted to create a photograph illustrating this rich abundance of activity and life.

There are thousands of rivers and streams in the GBR. All are remote, and not all carry salmon. Therefore, finding the right rivers to work in was key. Even after fine-tuned planning, things can always go awry. For instance, I discovered soon after my arrival that many of the best rivers were still too low for the salmon to migrate. Then, on one of my last days, enough rain fell for Taylor Bight (one of the most important runs for pink salmon) began to stir. So, I hiked up the river in a wetsuit with my weight belt and underwater housings until I reached a small waterfall. The pool below the fall seemed dark and devoid of life until a mottled fin punctured the surface. I soon realized that the darkness was actually a mass of fish carpeting the pool.

I had an inkling that this was not going to be easy, and I was right. I could not get within 3m of the fish before they got spooked and raced to the other end of the pool. For a while all I was getting were images of salmon tails, but I remembered that groups of salmon stage/rest in the highly oxygenated white water at the base of waterfalls. So I fought my up the stream and discovered a small, dense school of fish huddling in the eddy of a large rock. The fish quickly vanished, but I figured they would be back to take advantage of this oxygen-rich water. So, I wedged my leg into a crevice, shivered off freezing sprays of water,  hung on for dear life and waited. Slowly the fish returned, and I managed to capture these frames.

The entire rainforest ecosystem revolves around salmon. From bears, wolves, and ravens, to whales, anemones, and plankton–all are interconnected to the well-being of these anadromous fish. Even the trees derive 80% of their nitrogen budget from decaying salmon. The proposed supertanker route will plow directly through hundreds of critical salmon spawning streams, and it will only take a small oil spill to wipe out these streams (and ultimately the ecosystem) for decades if not centuries and the ripple effects of the loss of salmon will be felt all.

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