Legacy Part 03 – Jackie Hildering – AKA The Marine Detective – and Top Island Econauts

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By Jason Murphy. First Published 07/01/2018 

“Nature provides the answer”

I was riding in the passenger seat of Jackie Hildering’s pickup as we drove from Port McNeill to Telegraph Cove, when she said this to me in the course of conversation. I asked her if I could quote her on it.

We were talking about diving off the east coast of Vancouver Island, one of Jackie’s passions, along with studying the growing humpback whale population in the area, a host of other ecological issues, and driving change in the way we prioritize the needs of the environment in our lives, even the way we view ourselves and our happiness, through education and increased understanding.

The kelp, as well as being a friend to the environment by providing a safe nursery for many species and by being a highly effective carbon sink, is a friend to the diver in a more basic way, providing something secure enough to hang on to in a strong current.

We were talking about diving but we might as well have been talking about anything else, so heartfelt is Jackie’s belief that the world would be a better place, and we would all be much happier in it, if we looked to nature for solutions much more and relied on consumerism for self affirmation much less.

She is not a wide-eyed idealist by any means. She knows and empathizes with people who rely on the local resource based industries. She joked that she “slept with a logger” for a time in her life.

Jackie believes since we are all a part of nature it makes sense for us all want a future where everyone, including those who make a living from resource based industries, stand to benefit from it for much longer. And by longer she means for generations to come.

During our conversation about sea otters she said she was open to the idea of a sea otter watching eco tourism industry elsewhere in BC if their numbers continue to bounce back, and in this area if it happens here. At every turn she was enthusiastic to emphasize the need for us to to find “common solutions to common problems” and get away from a polarized conservationist vs. resource user mindset – noting that while we should view a rebounding sea otter population as a good thing in general it does bring new problems with it. Sea otters need to eat a lot of food in order to maintain their metabolism, which puts them in direct competition with humans.

I felt like I found a kindred spirit in Jackie in many ways. Her stubborn commitment to not let her idealism get in the way of her pragmatism and vice versa – to hold the requirement for a sustainable future for humans as well as the rest of the natural world in her mind at the same time without letting go of her belief in the importance of either one – resonated strongly with me and what I am endeavouring to do with Sealives.

Jackie is a lifetime ahead of me in understanding the issues however. She has devoted her life to the study of the ocean and to educating others about it and we could have gone into much more detail on many subjects.

She, like many others is opposed to open pen salmon farming. This and improving regulations for how close boats may approach sea mammals is one of many issues she is wants to see more action on. You can read about the latter on her blog here. The post includes text that Canadians can send to their MP to help push forward changes that have been in the works since 2004 finally get pushed through.

Regarding salmon farming, she is supportive of land based farming and has worked as the Communications Director and Community Liaison for Canada’s first land-based salmon farm owned by the ’Namgis First Nation – an example of her solutions based philosophy.

We also talked about the local sea urchin harvesting economy, a lucrative if physically demanding industry that she sees as relatively benign given that it helps keep kelp damaging sea urchins under control. Its not a big positive impact by any means, the kelp needs more help in the shape of a rebound in sea urchin eating species – sea otters and sea stars in particular – but its good to hear about a resource based business that is at least somewhat on the right side of things.

All the same, I couldn’t resist returning to the broader theme of driving positive change on ecological issues in society and so this is what we talked mostly about, and I find her views fascinating and insightful.

Jackie’s view is that our own ideas of self, based upon a misguided value set pummelled into us by a consumerist society creates a kind of paralysis in us all. That if you see yourself as a “resource user” there is natural tendency to allow that to get in the way of making the everyday changes you can make because it threatens your sense of who you are in the world. In other words the danger is one of falling into a kind of ecological identity crisis.

We resist change because our identity is tied to things that we have been taught are important by society and we continue to do make decisions that we know are damaging not because of the actual effect the changes may have on our lives, but in order to protect our sense of self.

Her suggested way out of it? Break the cycle.

We all have things in our life that are there by necessity and are not optimal from an environmental standpoint. Jackie’s point is that we should not let the things we can or can’t change define us, we should just make the positive changes we can make without delay.

We didn’t completely agree on everything. Jackie is highly skeptical of our current system to find answers for the problems that it itself has caused, and puts more faith in change resulting from individuals, through their consumer and voter choices. For now I remain someone who has some confidence in our system to provide large scale solutions to large scale ecological challenges, and that given a full and correct understanding of the problems solutions will be found, by people who look to nature for inspiration, but by people for people nonetheless.

But, I am here because I can no longer deny that our current way of doing things hasn’t allowed us to move fast enough to make enough of the right kind of changes within a timeframe that will leave us with anything close to the kind of global ecosystem we should be living in.

And in the same way that I have moved away from thinking that its ok for individuals to content themselves with the idea that we are all in the swim of history, and on balance we – society, the world – are moving in generally the right direction, I am increasingly of the opinion that real momentum must in large part be driven from the ground up if we are to gain enough of it quickly enough.

Jackie has been in the trenches of this struggle for much of her life. She has thought a lot about what drives this stuff and she is an eloquent speaker on the subject. I am very much looking forward to talking with her more as Sealives develops.