Biologist Alexandra Morton ended up in B.C.’s remote Echo Bay in the early 1980s with her son and (now late) husband, Robin, to study orcas. When factory fish farms moved in, some whales fled, but Morton stayed behind to fight for the integrity of the ecosystem. For the next 34 years, she documented the farms’ increasingly catastrophic impact on wild salmon, going toe to toe with the industry and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Here, the scientist-turned-reluctant-activist shares what she learned (for more, read her new book, Not on My Watch).
Partnering with First Nations will save the planet.
“These are the governments we need to work with, because they are unencumbered by the chaos of international trade. They are focused on this territory, and that’s how ecosystems work. You have to deal with [threats to ecosystems] locally.”
You can’t just elect politicians–you have to keep them accountable.
“The natural resources of this country are so desirable, and politicians have become the brokers. They’re allowing things to happen that are absolutely devastating to our future. You have to stay with politicians because companies and industry are staying with them and they’re spending hundreds of thousands on lobbyists.”
Get in the way of the people causing the problem.
“In the end, after all my research and activism, the only thing that worked was physically putting my body in the way and joining a First Nations occupation of a salmon farm for 280 days. That brought First Nations and the government to the table. The act of occupying, of just standing there and being honourable, peaceful but absolutely immovable—people have used it for centuries and it is incredibly powerful.”
You aren’t powerless.
“We have to remember that the power of one is all we have—but we all have it. When you stand up, there is a powerful chemical change in your body. You feel this invigoration. It is what your body wants to do.”
Activism is not for everybody.
“However, those people who are on the front lines need you terribly. They need your $20. They need you to send food. They need you to echo their message to the politicians. We had people send dog food for our dogs! That warmed our hearts like you wouldn’t believe. There’s always something you can do.”
Things can definitely change for the better.
“Last spring was my 20th year of looking at wild salmon, after some of the worst farms had been removed in the Broughton Archipelago area of the British Columbia coast. Instead of being torn and emaciated and shivering, these little fish last spring were outrageously beautiful. They were fat and sassy. Their eyes were so black, and their scales were shimmering in greens and silvers and blues. Nature is such a show-off. To see it turn around— I really didn’t think I was going to live long enough to see that.”
And…They’re Back: Restoration Programs That Have Had A Real Effect
Brought to the edge of extinction by mass hunting in the 19th century, buffalo (also known as bison) are slowly returning to the grasslands. The 2014 Buffalo Treaty is a cross-border collaboration between more than 30 First Nations and tribes in Canada and the U.S. that aims to restore wild, free-ranging bison to Indigenous and public lands. Parks Canada, Yellowstone National Park and Banff National Park are partners. buffalotreaty.com.
Canada’s most endangered mammal is arguably its most adorable. The chocolate- brown Vancouver Island marmot is only found in the wild. Excessive predation brought on by human settlement whittled the population to fewer than 30 by 2003, but captive breed-and- release programs have since bumped its numbers to more than 200. marmots.org.
Eastern Loggerhead Shrike
The endangered songbird once trilled across southern Ontario and northeastern Canada, before it was reduced to two small populations. Breed-and-release programs have since given the robin-sized bird, with its striking black mask, a chance to thrive again—if its habitats are preserved. wildlifepreservation.ca/eastern-loggerhead-shrike-program.