A 1-on-1 Interview with Sue Ann Gentry of the James Bay New Horizons Pollinator Garden.
Q1: What are the origins of the pollinator garden at New Horizons – where did the idea come from?
A: I was inspired by the program called Hives for Humanity on Vancouver’s downtown eastside. I met with them, and also had talks with the city of Victoria about placement. We wanted to enhance this community space for both people and pollinators, and create room for education about organic gardening and the negative health and ecological impacts of toxic pesticides.
Q2: What kinds of plants do you find the pollinators like best in the garden?
A: They love the Himalayan honeysuckle, salvia hotlips, St. John’s wort, borage, yarrow and camas! We also grow certain edible plants which are great for pollinators, like the plum tree and strawberries which are a great plant for carpeting open spaces.
Q3: What are some of the challenges you’ve had installing the community garden?
A: There was a lot of red tape at the city planning level that we’ve had to contend with. One example of this is that we’d love to put in some native hedgerows along the fence line, but we’re not able to. Another issue is losing bees. We’ve lost our bees each year to wasps and to American fallbrood disease. We would move from honeybees to another kind of bee, but people in the community have become attached to the honeybees so we’re working to find solutions. One of these solutions has been to hire a beekeeper to care for them. Another issue is gardeners in adjacent areas using chemicals in their gardens that are toxic to bees, such as Roundup. We can sometimes have difficulty sourcing plants because often plants are treated with chemicals in nurseries, which can last in the plant for up to two years and make them inhospitable and sometimes dangerous to pollinators.
Q4: What do you feel are your biggest achievements with the pollinator garden?
A: Definitely the community connections to the bees! We’ve seen a big reduction in stigma; people were initially fearful of having bees around, but now they’ve grown to love having them around. I also feel we’ve created a sanctuary space where people of all generations can come for some rest and spend time connecting to the plants and the pollinators. I also feel it’s important to promote aesthetics and beauty in public space – often we see developments that are sterile and exclusive, but this project has created an organic and inclusive space in the center of town.
Q5: Where does your funding come from?
A: We’ve had some grants from the city, and they’ve taken over the cost of the beekeeper. We also work with donations from New Horizons members.
A 1-on-1 interview with the Vancouver Island Chapter Head of the Surfrider Foundation: Lynn Wharram
Q: What originally drew you to the field of ocean-oriented conservation and restoration? Was there a particular event or realization that set you on your path?
A: I’ve always been environmentally conscious in the sense of the “3 R’s”: reducing, reusing and recycling. This consciousness has been increased by surfing and spending time at beaches, as well as the experience of having kids. I would say the particular events that set me on this path were the first beach cleanups I participated in, which opened my eyes to the scale of the plastic problem in our oceans. Especially remote cleanups, those taking place in far-our areas that appear untouched from afar. For example, Nootka Island, the Broken Islands, and Rugged Point – there are so many bottles, as well as lots of fishing debris and dock debris that wash up in these remote areas. There isn’t really anywhere that remains unaffected by ocean plastics.
Q: What academic field are you in and how does it translate to your environmental activism? What career goals are ahead of you?
A: I am a registered accountant and spent 17 years working for the CRA, and still work with them occasionally. From there, I started volunteering with Surfrider, and now I’m working toward a Bachelor of Science in the UVic Earth and Ocean Science department. I’m hoping after that to attain a master’s degree in ocean science.
During my time with Surfrider I took note of the widespread effects of the Hanjin Seattle cargo spill in 2017. Surfrider was able to draw from its volunteer networks to address the spill, but the impacts were really widespread because the currents brought the debris all over the west coast. I still notice Styrofoam that (because of its unique colour) is recognizably from the Hanjin spill on Vancouver Island beaches. This really got me interested in the physics of how ocean currents distribute debris and oil from marine disasters – the better we understand the flows of currents, the better we can predict where the impacts from these disasters will be concentrated, and the better we can respond. I’m also interested in studying ocean acidification, because there needs to be a lot more study to understand how the impacts of acidification are distributed.
Q: Surfrider is involved in quite diverse initiatives: beach cleanups, water testing, shotgun wad monitoring, and anti-plastics campaigning at the level of businesses and local governments. It’s particularly interesting that the organization is active at both ends of the plastic waste cycle: reducing use, and cleaning up aftermath. Are there any plans for expansion of existing initiatives, or any other intervention points in the works?
A: We’re interested in expanding campaigns to deal with storm water filtration and treatment, and implementing wash stations at local beaches. There definitely could be more infrastructure in place to prevent harmful runoff from entering the ocean, and in promoting safety at the individual level through better hygiene infrastructure. We’re also hoping to build on our campaigns to reduce single-use plastics at the municipal level.
Q: What has been your favourite experience working with Surfrider VI? What moments have been most impactful, or what achievements have been most fulfilling?
A: I really enjoy tabling, where we get to meet people and introduce them to Surfrider’s activities. The most impactful moment for me recently was during the Hanjin spill response, when we were able to quickly rally a huge number of volunteers from various local chapters across the island and the lower mainland to quickly and efficiently mount a disaster response. The most fulfilling experiences for me have been working with children. In the 2016-2017 school year I ran a program at Elizabeth Buckley School where we did monthly beach cleanups along a 200-metre stretch of the Dallas road shoreline, and I was also involved in a program called the Sea Rangers that involved youth from the Hillside neighborhood area. I think what was most fulfilling about these experiences was the youth’s reaction to the issue of marine plastics. The Elizabeth Buckley students wrote to city council about the issue, and also conducted a play about marine debris. It was great to see the impact on young people and inspiring to know that the younger generation is so aware and involved.
Q: Where is there the most room for improvement in Surfrider’s activities? Are there any initiatives that would benefit from more volunteers and resources?
A: We could definitely use more volunteers – not necessarily for beach cleanups, as we usually have a huge turnout. We’ve actually been unable to run cleanups during COVID-19 because it’s hard to manage safety protocols in an environment with 100+ volunteers working in a confined area. We could use volunteers who are interested in tabling and communication work such as writing to council. We’d also love to see more long-term volunteers. There are monthly meetings over Google Meet for anyone interested.
Q1: How has your social and educational background translated to your work? What made you choose this career path – was there a ‘moment’, or was it gradual?
A: I got both my degrees at UVic; the first was an undergraduate degree in biology, and the second was a master of science in biology with a focus on botany and palynology, where I studied the ancient ecosystems of Vancouver Island through the lens of pollen. I was always inspired by taxonomy – classes and names of plants were a particular interest of mine. I have always been passionate to the point of obsession about the native plants of this island. I started a native plant nursery immediately after graduation; I’ve always been taken by the native species.
Q2: Do you find that there is a lot of promotional work and marketing involved in your business, or does the community come to you organically?
A: We do a lot of educational work, through classes and workshops, which is kind of an inadvertent or alternative form of advertising. We don’t approach it as such though – we do educational work because we feel compelled and mandated to do so, and because we’re motivated by community involvement in stewarding native plants and supporting local ecosystems. Social media has been a great tool for connecting; we run our social media pages as a journal or outlet for our daily musings, and it allows people to keep up to date with our work at the same time.
Q3: Do you find there are different priorities between individuals and community groups and, say, municipal governments that work with SNP?
A: When we’re working with the general public, it’s often on private land, or if it’s community based we’re usually planning for planting boulevards or community gardens. With municipalities, it’s often public lands in question, such as rain gardens in transit areas or places like the Stoneridge Wetlands. The main difference is usually the degree of expertise. Municipalities come to the table with strong planning frameworks in place, whereas with individuals and communities it’s more of a process of social learning.
Q4: Native plant propagation – how does it work?
A: We look to nature to help us determine the steps we should take – so the local setting is important. Life histories of plants themselves follow seasonal cycles, and are influenced by soil features and life cycles, so it’s always a place-specific process. Here we grow for Southern Vancouver Island, which was arid summers and wet winters. Seed comes to maturity in the late Spring, around June. Some plants germinate in the fall, and some in the Spring – but for the most part, I recommend sowing in the fall.
My research covers restoration ecology, stats, data, plants, mites, and landscape ecology. Though I found restoration on accident, I believe it's the most hopeful, useful pathway in the midst of our current ecological woes. My passion is to make restoration outcomes more predictable by bringing together knowledge through meta-analysis and synthesis, and by applying generalizable ecological concepts to the successes and failures we see on the ground.
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