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When the Goldstream Glowed Green

When the Goldstream River glowed green When the Goldstream River glowed green

The first message came through and emotion number one hit: complete disbelief. Shortly it was followed by a second message, this time with a picture attached and the emotions shifted from disbelief to shock sliding into horror and settling in at grief. This was the experience of finding out the Goldstream River was flowing fluorescent green.

By Allison Roberts Park Naturalist
RLC Park Services

The first message came through and emotion number one hit: complete disbelief. Shortly it was followed by a second message, this time with a picture attached and the emotions shifted from disbelief to shock sliding into horror and settling in at grief. This was the experience of finding out the Goldstream River was flowing fluorescent green.

The annual salmon run that occurs in the Goldstream River is a part of the local heritage here on Vancouver Island. Residents from the nearby city of Victoria, and from all over the world, have flocked to witness this phenomenon for generations. In a sense, it is an opportunity to pass a torch of eco-awareness from one generation to the next. There are few places like Goldstream Park where visitors are able to get such a close view of the salmon as they spawn due to the shallow flow of water and easy access that the park provides.

On Wednesday December 29, 2010, around 3:15 pm, visitors to Goldstream Park and passing motorists were horrified to see the water in the Goldstream River take on an almost glowing green hue. Hundreds of people stopped to take pictures and video tape the unnatural event.

At the Goldstream Nature House, the phone started ringing off the hook and concerned visitors burst through the doors with stories of toxic green water, photos on cameras and even samples in coffee cups.

Some visitors remarked that the colour was so intense it actually hurt their eyes. A father of another family recounted how his son started screaming “Dad! Dad! The water is slime!!! Pull Over!” as the family was driving north from Victoria. They stopped and were incredulous at what they saw. “It looked like every cartoon or horror movie you’ve seen of toxic waste.”

Not just any green, but fluorescent greenNot just any green, but fluorescent greenAfter approximately half an hour the water had flowed into the estuary and the entire estuarine habitat was glowing green.

This was when grief entered into my heart.

At this point, it was not known what the substance was. All that was known was that it was completely out of our control to stop its progress. The fire department had been called in, the Ministry of Environment was on site, sympathetic observers were there, representatives of numerous interest groups were taking their own samples and yet nothing could be done to stop the flow of the unknown substance from passing down the entire length of the river ecosystem in the park, entering the estuary and from there being carried by the ocean to anywhere it could go.

As worry and grief took a strangle hold on thoughts, I, like everybody else, had to sit and wait as tests were done on samples removed from the river.

Over the next day and a half it was media mayhem around the river. Goldstream the “Green River” made it into the National News and many speculations pointed toward the misuse of a tracing dye used to track water systems.

Midday, on December 31, the Ministry of Environment confirmed that the samples taken from the river revealed the presence of Fluorescein, a tracing dye that is typically touted as being non-toxic.

For some, this revelation allowed the feeling of grief to quickly do an about face into relief. However I was left with concern and took a moment to contemplate the potential repercussions of this event, both positive and negative.

Note that Fluorescein has been banned for use in the Chicago River, where they used it to turn the river green in the annual St Patrick’s Day Celebrations, due to its negative impact on wildlife.

Newly laid salmon eggs are threatened by the "green slime."Newly laid salmon eggs are threatened by the "green slime."On the brighter side, this shocking event has brought out renewed showing of support for the Goldstream River. The day after the Green River episode, there were a huge spike in visitors at the Goldstream Nature House. It was inspiring for us, the Park Naturalists, to see how many people hold this river as close to their hearts as we do.

The incident provided the public with a very clear example of how the introduction of a substance into a river system leads to very quick dispersal throughout an ecosystem.

Although Fluorescein is said to be non-toxic, a lot of people now have a better understanding of how far reaching the effects of any contamination of our streams and rivers can be. We were virtually helpless to stop it and had to simply observe as it covered the sensitive river system full of newly laid salmon eggs.

The Fluorescein in this instance was highly visible thus providing an easily viewable illustration of how far reaching the effects can be on our environment when spills, even small ones, happen near our water ways. However, this also happens with substances we can’t see and it’s happening right now in streams all across the globe. We are just not as aware. I hope we are able to turn this incident into a valuable environmental education tool. Education is why we are here at the Goldstream Nature House.

So in the end, it appears I do not have to mourn the loss of my beloved Goldstream River just yet. As a Park Naturalist, I am faced with grief and loss on a daily basis when I see the living systems, creatures and plants that I feel passionately about suffer and disappear in front of my eyes.

The only way we can protect the natural systems that we love is to inspire others through education and awareness to know, to love and therefore protect our fragile planet. Get outside…walk in beauty!

For more information on Goldstream Park and visitor services, please visit www.naturehouse.ca



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Last modified on Wednesday, 17 October 2012 14:13

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