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Irrepressible Howe Sound

An enigmatic fjord swirling with the after-effects of industrial activity and shining with remarkable comebacks of nature

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These days, with government cuts, says Buchanan, what's happening out of necessity is that people are stepping forward and more citizen science is being conducted.

Case in point: the Shipwreck Exploration and Conservation Society (SECS).

A local diving group with a penchant for exploration, they assisted Buchanan in conducting a survey of the Canadian Coast Guard ship, Ready, a twin-screw, diesel-powered search and rescue cutter, which sank in January 2011 off Britannia Beach.

Russell Clarke, director of media and communications, wrote in an email that it is unclear exactly how the ship sank, but one thing that is known is that it wasn't prepared to be underwater.

SECS completed a series of dives on the wreck and found few problems with the Ready.

But as the wreck rusts and degrades, its structural integrity could be compromised and subsequently let out contaminants.

"The real truth is that Britannia has for a long time been a dumping ground," wrote Clarke. "For decades this area has been used to keep things out of sight and out of mind."

He notes the biggest threat currently to the ocean are two ships still barely afloat at Britannia Beach. A recent survey showed they could sink at any time.

If they go down, like the Ready, will they present a risk to the marine life that is finally returning to the area?

Derelict vessels — ticking time bombs

Speaking of sinking, Clarke points out that B.C. has "an undeniable history of letting ships deteriorate and sink without proper attention or respect of our oceans."

Buchanan is well aware of this phenonomen.

On a brisk morning in May, we jumped into his boat at Porteau Cove and headed towards the imposing Anvil Island set in the heart of Howe Sound. Steep cliffs and bald eagles eye us as we pass by, and then as we came around the back of the island, a most disconcerting sight awaited us.

There, docked in a cove sat a BC Ferry vessel, the Queen of Saanich.

Buchanan echoed my thoughts when he said: "It's alarming because it's tucked away, almost deliberately hidden from the public and ruining this beautiful picture of a relatively pristine wilderness."

Last October he received a phone call from a local resident alerting him to the abandoned vessel. Since then he has been going there to investigate allegations of illegal ocean dumping taking place as part of the salvaging operation.

"I haven't been able to conclusively tell whether there has been dumping or not," Buchanan says, adding that back in January he scaled the cliffs overlooking the cove to have an overview of the activities onboard the vessel.

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