Orange fish in the ocean - photo by Hiroko Yoshii - photo by Hiroko Yoshii

Waking up to Vancouver Island's Diversity

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From untouched white sand beaches to dense forests full of wildlife, Vancouver Island off the west coast of British Columbia in Canada offers an incredible display of biodiversity and the experience of waking up to a different world every day. It was my first solo trip — my camera was my only companion for five weeks. Mixing photography with travel helps me understand the uniqueness of each environment, adding a perspective that hiking alone wouldn't provide. It helps reveal the finer details of each location and motivates me to uncover hidden gems along the way.

I started my trip in the southern part of the island, camping in various parks and hitchhiking my way between them. One of the most memorable campsites was in Goldstream Provincial Park, about 10 miles from the provincial capital, Victoria. The waterfalls there are surrounded by old growth trees that shelter the ground from sun and rain, and provide homes to the birds above and insects below. Not only did I appreciate the photography potential of the mixtures of greens and blues on the water as it reflected the light piercing through the trees above, but the streams also provided a clear and fresh water source that was a life saver on some of the trails I traveled.

The Juan De Fuca trail was one of the most memorable. It was the longest hike I had done on the trip, following the southwest coastline of the island. It took me five days and from my first steps, I was immersed in a mixture of forests where pine needles gently fell from the fir trees above as autumn slowly arrived. The paths were colored with browns and oranges from fallen leaves, contrasting with the green mosses living on trunks of trees both dead and alive. The nights felt still and waves crashed a few meters from my tent, helping to sooth my tension at the thought of an unexpected visit by some of the bigger residents of the area, such as black bears. I woke up on stone beaches to the sound of squirrels chewing the stems of pine cones and letting them fall to the ground to be collected soon after. At breakfast, I was visited by the local crows and other birds who were perhaps hoping for an easy meal. Out in the rock pools, sea otters fished as the sun peeked over the neighboring mountains.

The farther I traveled, the more I was exposed to and educated about Vancouver Island's First Nations residents and their long history of connection to the environment — the local biodiversity provided for them long before there were any European settlements. The island has a rich supply of seafood year round and berries in the summer. The natural abundance allows a variety of mammals, birds and insects to thrive there. Salmon, one of the more stable food sources for many, have unfortunately become less and less plentiful. It was easy to see the growing concern around both the quality and quantity of accessible fish — major concerns for the locals as well as the wildlife. The situation didn't seem unfixable, but if the right steps are not taken, issues like these could have a huge impact on species biodiversity on and around the island.

It felt as though my trip ended too soon. The list of places I wanted to see was growing, but my funds were slowly shrinking. Vancouver Island had much more to offer than I expected; one day I will return and I hope to see the places I visited as untouched as I left them. The island's bountiful range of plants, animals and terrain greatly improved my photography and gave me a huge newfound respect for nature, as my past views were limited by the concrete jungles I've called home. 

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