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Connecting Hearts and Helping Hands in Nature

Robin McGeough, Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria

From the smell of damp sea air to the feel of seaweed sliding between your fingers, spending time near the ocean is a full sensory experience. It’s been proven many times over that spending time in nature does wonders for our bodies and our mental health. From reduced levels of stress to increased mood and focus, taking time in nature can rejuvenate the world within us.

Time in nature also helps us connect with the world around us. At ICA, we see how lowering barriers to help newcomers get outside reduces isolation and builds confidence and connection. During Spring Break, we offered two exciting programs for our ICA Youth and Family clients to share some unique coastal adventures and connect with our community partners.

On a particularly wet Monday in March, we brought 25 ICA youth and family clients for an exciting day on the high seas with Eagle Wing Tours and the Greater Victoria Naturehood. We were joined by clients of all ages from China, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Afghanistan, and Syria. For many clients, this was their first time getting to see whales in their natural environment. Some newly arrived families are still waiting to settle into their new homes and schools. A day at sea was a great way to break up the routine and try something new.

During our trip, we were lucky to see a small pod of Orcas hunting in the area. We also enjoyed getting up close and personal with some Steller sea lions hauled out on a rock near the lighthouse on Tl’chés. Youth watched with wide eyes as the noticeably larger males fought and scrapped for the top spot on a little rock out to sea. A hard day's work just to get some rest.

We felt

it was important to balance our whale watching trip with an opportunity to give back and help keep our oceans and coastlines safe for future generations. With Greater Victoria NatureHood, Eagle Wing Tours, the CRD, and NatureKidsBC, we brought 20 youth and family clients to the Esquimalt Lagoon for a day of cleaning the beach and learning about new species. Armed with gloves, garbage bags, and the Seek App from iNaturalist, we set out to identify local species and hunt for MOOP (matter out of place). The Seek App allowed us to use our phones to identify local flora and fauna and contribute to studies of the area's biodiversity.

While large pieces of plastic and garbage are easier to spot, it’s the microplastics that are our beaches’ biggest concern. Microplastics are increasingly becoming a serious threat to our oceans because of how far and wide they spread, their persistence in ecosystems and their adverse health effects on humans and marine life. While most microplastics are hard to spot with the naked eye, we did our best using sifters and strainers to capture styrofoam we found along the beach. Our youth group collected over 3 large bags of garbage, containing styrofoam, straws, cigarette buts and pieces of fishing debris.

It was an important lesson to share with our youth and families - happy whales make a happy ecosystem, but it takes work to ensure they are safe for everyone now, and for years to come.

We are grateful for the Greater Victoria Naturehood, Eagle Wing Tours, CRD and NatureKidsBC and our brave volunteers Albaraa, Kyla and Valerie. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to make these events happen.

To learn more about ICA, the Greater Victoria NatureHood, Eagle Wing Tours, CRD and NatureKidsBC, you can find their social media below:

Photo Credit: Val Shore/Eagle Wing Whale & Wildlife Tours

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