COLUMN: Taking the beach for granted

White Rock beached whale a reminder to take care of our oceans

The humpback whale that became beached on White Rock beach last week caused a tremendous outpouring of public sympathy and interest, but none of that could save the life of the whale, which was in severe distress long before it ended up on the breach.

It had somehow been caught up in fishing gear and likely wasn’t able to eat properly for some time. It was a sad ending for a magnificent creature.

Such concern for ocean creatures is laudable and is a far cry from the days when whales were killed so that a few small parts of their anatomy could be sold commercially. As a society, we have thankfully made some progress in this area.

I’ve lived in this area all my life and have spent many days and evenings in White Rock. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first incident of this type there, although there may be others I don’t recall.

I certainly remember when there was an offshore oil spill that affected the beach in the early 1970s. That was a lightning rod for many people here who, up until that time, had taken the beach for granted. It certainly gave a boost to the environmental movement which has now become much more powerful.

I sometimes wonder, though, if too many people who live in Surrey, Delta and White Rock still take their beaches for granted.

If the late W.W. Hastings was still alive, he would be reminding us of the importance of keeping the beaches as natural and pristine as possible.

He was a campaigner against industrial development along Mud Bay, which would certainly have had a significant impact on the area we call home. His voice was a lonely one at first, as this was in the early 1960s, long before it was fashionable to speak up for the environment and against business interests.

What made it ever more remarkable is that Hastings was a champion of business interests – a charter member of the Surrey Regional Chamber of Commerce (now the Surrey Board of Trade) and a business person himself.

Since that time, all three municipalities have done much more to give citizens access to the foreshore. White Rock has created the promenade (largely funded by pay parking), and a seaside stroll along the beach is a delight at all times of the year, particularly on a nice summer day. Let’s hope there will be such a thing this year.

Eventually, I hope the promenade will extend all the way around Kwomais Point to Crescent Beach, but that is likely many years away.

Meanwhile, Surrey has established a wonderful park overlooking the ocean at Kwomais Point in Ocean Park, on the former United Church camp property. It offers an unparalleled vista of the ocean that simply can’t be seen from many other places.

Crescent Beach hasn’t changed much, but the beach, the paths and the overall atmosphere is very popular. The Blackie’s Spit area is a wonderful park and has become far more popular in recent years, thanks to Surrey’s growing population.

It is a busy place in the summer months.

Mud Bay Park is a relatively new Surrey park and has become a very popular walking locale. It is also a good starting point for a bike exploration of the dykes in Delta. It is possible to ride all the way to Point Roberts on the U.S. border, and hardly cross a city street.

Delta’s foreshore along Mud Bay and Boundary Bay doesn’t get the traffic that other oceanfront areas do, but it is still well worth visiting.

Many Surrey and Delta residents don’t always think about the beaches that are close by. They think of Vancouver beaches – and they are definitely wonderful. But our homegrown beaches are a delight, and are much easier to get to.

We all need to take full responsibility for ensuring that they are kept clean, free of pollution and accessible to all.

As the whale reminds us, many things go on in the Pacific Ocean – and when the results of those activities wash up on the beaches, it is those of us who live nearby who are the most directly impacted.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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