By Julia Pepler

Earlier this week, we made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend citizen science participation in our Vancouver Water Monitoring Program until further notice. Due to the current circumstances and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak, we didn’t want our dedicated volunteers, who are always selfless and generous with their time, to have to choose between their health and their involvement in protecting our waters.

Although we have paused our regular water monitoring program, our small team decided to head out onto False Creek on Thursday and collect some observations about the water and answer a burning question: are people still recreating on False Creek?

Vancouver has had incredible sunny weather for the past week, so it was no surprise when I met up with Sadie Caron, our Program Manager, at Olympic Village, that people were running, biking, soaking up the sun, and getting some fresh air. 

As we travelled around False Creek we observed many wildlife species from Canada geese, mallards, cormorants, and a starling, to a seal enjoying the calm water in Brokers’ Bay and schools of fish at Vanier Park. 

In general we observed a large quantity of garbage including plastic bags and packaging at Olympic Village and Brokers’ Bay. The water seemed very clear, with a blue-green colour with generally no odour, however, all of the water we observed at our three sites in False Creek had a scummy and sometimes oily surface.

In our three hours by the water with warm spring temperatures, we only observed two kayaks and a handful of people on motorboats and sailboats. This was a contrast to the hundreds of people we saw on the seawall! On a normal day, despite sometimes freezing temperatures, we almost always observe crews of dragon boat paddlers in False Creek, but with COVID-19 affecting all areas of life, we figure these paddling clubs have temporarily shut down to help “flatten the curve.”

All public health recommendations are urging people to stay indoors to help slow the spread of COVID-19. But we understand that getting outside for a walk, to clear your head, stretch your legs, and bask in the sun helps with the cabin fever. If you are wanting to go to a local park or beach we urge you to follow guidelines to not exceed groups of 5 people, always keeping a distance of 2 meters apart. 

Fresh air, natural waterways, and time outside can be like medicine when it comes to quelling anxiety. These are unusual times and we all must work together to practice social distancing and “flatten the curve”. We have compiled a small list of resources for you to access that will hopefully provide a way for you to connect with our waters while practicing social distancing.

  1. Read these 7 books to connect with water from your couch
  2. Learn about Vancouver’s underground streams
  3. Take a deep dive into Mariana’s Trench
  4. Find out why restoration is so important for the Fraser River
  5. Join in a free daily online meditation hosted by Surf the Greats

Getting out by the water helped us see that people are not necessarily flocking to their kayaks, paddleboards and other water recreational sports during this pandemic. In warmer climates, such as Florida, there have been crowds of people hitting the beach and socializing in an irresponsible way. News and plans are constantly changing with the current public health crisis. For the time being, we are not planning to collect our regular E. coli samples until COVID-19 has become less threatening. Depending on how the next few weeks develop, we might head out in singles or pairs to collect more of this environmental data. For now, our team will continue to work from home and connect with our community online.

For those who are curious, here is a breakdown of what we observed on March 19:

Wildlife Observations

Water Recreation Users

Floatables & litter

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