Research fit for an (Edge)ucator

March 10, 2020
Hilary Leighton

Last week I had the great privilege of climbing aboard Pearson College’s boat, Second Nature, and taking a short 20-minute ride out to Race Rocks Ecological Reserve.  

A unique richness of diversity and life, Race Rocks is 220 hectares of rock and reef bounded by the Salish Sea on all sides and includes the landmark Race Rocks Lighthouse. Sea birds, orca, seals, fish and marine invertebrate, and algae all thrive in a wildly beautiful place that was first established in 1980 by a proposal from the Pearson College students passionate to conserve this outermost edge of the West Coast. 

A MAEEC student, Nick Townley, is living there for 100 days of near solitude performing the role of Eco-Guardian. He has been there since December 21st where his role is comprised of many things including monitoring and tracking the movement and numbers of migratory birds and the grand elephant seals who have leisurely strewn themselves throughout the island. All the while, he is reflecting on his experience as an outdoor educator (at the edge) by tracking another form of data — the inner significance of guarding an ecologically sensitive site and what it means to do this work, how it is to live to keep this place safe for all life.  

And oh, what life there is at Race Rocks! Whoa! Elephant seals come by their name honestly! Their deep and wild bark-bark-barking met our boat as we made our landing approach in very choppy waters several times. It sounded like both a curious questioning of our intentions and an invitation of sorts. A landing chorus! Once moored, they allowed us to roam around freely as long as we kept our distance. At one point, I got the sense that someone was watching me. Turning to look, I saw enormous saucer-sized brown eyes and impossible whiskers peeking up at me from the top of a small berm. Hallo friend! They mostly kept to themselves as we explored the island, climbed the lighthouse for a spectacular view and good conversation, toured the house Nick is living in and generally visited with Nick to hear more about his experience. He is doing extremely well and, while he had hoped for more reading during his time on the rock, he looks robustly healthy and has been having the time of his life. More will be revealed in the thesis to come I have no doubt.  

All in all, a beautiful day, calm seas to ride back home upon and a sense that something beautiful is going on out there in the name of conservation and biodiversity. I am grateful to Nick for the invitation, to Pearson College for the lift and BC Parks for their foresight wisdom.