Gordon Mclaughlin takes a panorama of the (currently non-existent) kelp bed along the shore at the 50th parallel marker. McLaughlin has been keeping a pictorial record of the kelp beds in various locations for almost a decade

Capturing the cagey kelp

Curious local undertakes long-term pictorial recordkeeping of area kelp beds

Gordon McLaughlin has been standing in the same spots, taking the same photographs of the same beaches at the same time of year for almost a decade now.

“It struck me that pictorial records are all around us – the archives are full of pictures – but nobody that I know of in this area has said, ‘Okay, let’s take picture of a set place year in and year out, with a set focus.’ And I thought, well, the kelp beds are about as easy as you can get,” he says, looking out at the ocean from his perch at the 50th parallel marker.

So in 2006, he started his project of photographically documenting the kelp beds where his city meets the water he so loves.

“I’ve fished here all my life, and the kelp beds were always a very important part of the fishery, before down riggers came along. And I just thought, what happens over the years to the kelp beds?”

On or about Aug. 8 each year – McLaughlin has determined this is when the kelp beds are at their fullest – he heads down to his spots along the shore “when the tide is about three feet.”

He intends to eventually turn the photos into a digital slideshow that will get longer and longer, showing the cycles of the kelp beds and how they change from year to year.

“This year there’s none. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen this,” he says, looking out at the water.

“When it’s really thick, it literally looks like you could walk on the darn things. On thin years, obviously, it eases back, but this is a huge anomaly.”

“The best guess is that lack of the long blade algae (kelp) is due to the increase in number of urchins, which in turn is due to the lack of Pisaster (purple sea star),” according to local biologist and biology/ecology instructor at North Island College Sandra Milligan, who also sits on the board of directors of the BC Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences.

But answers aren’t really what McLaughlin is after. They’re nice, but they’re not the goal.

“It’s just one of those arcane things I’ve started. It’s just curiosity more than anything. The end goal is simply having the record. If someone had gone down to Ken Ford’s garage when he first opened up and then gone back every year and taken the same picture from the same spot, think about what it could tell us. Or if someone had done that at the foreshore, or the Big Rock, or downtown, or Simms Creek at Dogwood (Street), the possibilities are endless.”

And so, the 72 year-old will continue to head out to his various points on the shoreline – the Willow Point breakwater, the end of Adams Road, the Big Rock Boat Ramp, the parking lot at Simms Creek and the 50th parallel marker – in August each year with his camera, just for his own interest.

He plans on passing his project along to one of the organizations for which he volunteers. He’s been involved with both the Campbell River Environmental Committee and the Willow Creek Watershed Society for some time, and hopes someone will take up the cause once he’s ready to give it up.

“To me, pictorial records taken over time would be just fascinating. I don’t know what will happen to this particular one, but maybe someone will take it up after I’m done. I don’t know,” he says.

But for now, he’ll just keep at it, and see what he sees.