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The sea we share — Corbett Scholar Navid Saadati

Rocky outcrop into the Salish Sea with a small pebble beach. A blue sky background and golden grass in the foreground.
Hornby Island, British Columbia. Photo credit: Navid Saadati

April 14, 2022

Although our class of Corbett Exchange students haven’t been able to physically travel across the border to experience life and school in our neighbour countries, we have still been able to share. Share knowledge, share views, share laughs, and importantly we’ve been able to see just how much we share in commonalities and responsibilities looking forward.

After attending Dr. Natalie Baloy’s amazing workshop on the Salish Sea, I began to truly understand the depth and importance of this exchange program and the goal to initiate cross border and borderless relationships, conversations, friendships, and ultimately efforts and work towards common goals. This realization occurred when Natalie explained that the Salish Sea is home to Coast Salish Tribes, Indigenous Nations, and is also almost evenly split by the Canadian and American border. This made me think…what could be a better symbol of something we all share, enjoy and are responsible for? The Salish Sea’s ecosystem doesn’t recognize the borders or the cities we have built, though. The Salish Sea is full of life and complex cycles and patterns that have existed for eons, which are more integral and legitimate than so much of the institutional presence humans tend to believe reigns supreme in the decision making regarding this ecosystem. This immensely powerful and influential waterbody that weaves through the hundreds of islands and major cities and small towns in our shared region provides so much to all of us, regardless of if we carry an American or Canadian passport.

View of rocky tidal pools at sunset.

Horby Island, British Columbia. Photo credit: Navid Saadati

From the workshop, I reflected on Natalie’s initial exercise where she had us pick some of our favourite destinations in the Salish Sea. I chose Hornby Island, which I visited for the first time last summer. Hornby Island is breathtakingly beautiful and equally charming – somewhere I recommend all my classmates to one day visit! I had great times swimming, camping, and hiking on the island, but this was a very surface level appreciation. I thought Hornby was great because the Island was a fun vacation for me. Upon further reflection, I knew I should also think about all the places I frequently spend time along the Salish Sea – and what they meant to my life. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I realized I spend a lot of time by the sea – at least once a week with my girlfriend or friends or alone. Where the ocean meets land always seems to be the ideal place to enjoy our food, go for a walk, or simply sit and talk. I think all of us who are lucky to call the Pacific Northwest our home can relate to this. Something calming and peaceful draws us to spend time by the sea. Whether I’m socializing, alone, happy, or sad, I subconsciously go by the sea because there is a certain environment there that gives my spirit something I need. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s something I surely don’t feel when I’m inside a building, or on a busy street. I’ve always appreciated living by the ocean, but now it’s time for me to think about the specific privileges and blessings this sea and land have afforded me.

The Seattle Aquarium’s “Stories from the Salish Sea” video series showed me even further how much the Salish Sea truly provides us and has been the reason so many of us ended up inhabiting the Pacific Northwest. It was amazing to learn about the Kelp Forest Highway that spans from Asia down the west coast of North America. The kelp plays a crucial role in acting as the foundation for so much life to thrive in the Salish Sea. These kelp forests shade and cool the ocean floor, eliminate excess carbon, and feed the different organisms. But the increase in pollution and human presence along the Salish Sea is damaging these kelp highways. If the kelp doesn’t survive, then so many other creatures will cease to exist, and without so much of the life in the Salish Sea where would each of us be? These are questions I’m beginning to ask myself. I’m beginning to understand there is a complex ecosystem whereby organisms in the sea and on the land give and take so much to each other – ultimately creating this rich and beautiful environment. An example from the video series I loved was when they explained that nitrogen from salmon can be found in some of the trees in the forests along the Pacific Northwest. I think this is such a great example of how interconnected everything is. Those salmon have fed people for thousands of years – drawing humans to live along the coast. Whether or not I knew it, my eventual immigration to Victoria when I was a baby occurred largely because of the Salish Sea’s offerings to the people who have lived here and eventually built the towns and cities we all inhabit.

Glimpse of blue sea through green leafy trees, with a cloudless blue sky background.

Hornby Island, British Columbia. Photo credit: Navid Saadati

The Salish Sea gives each of us so much. Whether it be food, a home, mental clarity, a favourite vacation destination, fresh air, or a career. It’s clear that the trade hasn’t been fair between us humans and this rich ecosystem. Unsurprisingly, so much of the damage done to the Salish Sea has occurred in the last 50-100 years. We know that Americans and Canadians need to work together to maintain this gift we share – but I’ve also learned it is paramount that we consult, listen, empower, and ultimately learn from leaders of the Coast Salish Tribes and Nations who have lived in harmony with the sea and the land for thousands of years if we want to successfully maintain this shared gift. Roughly 9 million people from different countries and backgrounds inhabit the areas by the Salish Sea, and most of those people wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the gifts the sea offers. Uniting and collaborating occurs over shared goals and I can’t think of a better shared goal than to work to respect and maintain this beautiful ecosystem.

The Corbett British Columbia-Washington International Exchange Program Fund provides an opportunity for undergraduate students at the University of Washington to spend two semesters at the University of British Columbia or University of Victoria; and for students from the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria to spend three quarters at the University of Washington.