Semester in Dialogue Alumni Launch Award-Nominated Year of the Salish Sea

June 02, 2022

Written by Antalya Popatia
Edited by Jocelyn Wong and Stephanie Hall

Initiated by six Semester in Dialogue (the Semester) students during their Fall 2021 semester, the Year of the Salish Sea (YOSS) is a youth-led initiative that aims to bring together local First Nations, municipalities, organizations and individuals in the Salish Sea ecosystem region to strengthen existing efforts towards a healthier Salish Sea.

Over the past several months, YOSS co-leads and Semester alumni, Tasha Romeyn and Simran Sarai have been working closely with Councillor Michael Wiebe at the City of Vancouver to proclaim YOSS. Councillor Wiebe put forward a motion and it passed unanimously in January, making the City of Vancouver the first city to pass the motion. Since then, the Island Trust Council and the Town of Gibsons have also adopted YOSS. Moving forward, the YOSS team is working to get more municipal government declarations, while also engaging and educating the public, and amplifying existing work. The team's goals are to encourage a cultural shift towards centering the ocean in our lives. They want people in coastal regions to be more aware of the role that the ocean and water play in our daily lives. Ultimately, they are hopeful that this initiative will open more windows to create meaningful policy change.  

So, how did this meaningful project begin in the first place?

Coming up with YOSS as a final project was no small task. Over the first two months of the Semester, students heard from over 50 experts who live and work in the Salish Sea. These individuals provided essential insight on different aspects of the sea and the issues it faces. From these talks, students were able to piece together different problems and patterns that existed. In particular, our society’s extractive relationship with the land and sea quickly became clear. Colonial relationships, harmful governance and fragmented ocean governance occurs in BC, for example, because there is no clear jurisdiction on who manages the Salish Sea.

Public engagement and creating a more ocean-centered culture is important to YOSS, since most people in BC have very limited knowledge on the body of water in the first place. In October 2021, the students held a "design jam" event with stakeholders. Through a series of dialogues, they figured out what their final project could be, what the stakeholders needed, plus what would ultimately benefit them and their work. Thus, the idea of having a Year of the Salish Sea arose. For the next month, the students conducted extensive research, came up with new and innovative ideas and had a plethora of discussions to figure out their scope—what they could and wanted to achieve.

Tasha said she really enjoyed the brainstorming sessions that were held, as it was fun imagining the potential of YOSS based on what the students had learnt from stakeholders. She valued the team’s commitment for taking into account the diversity of student voices. According to Tasha, the challenges for her and her team during this time had mostly to do with convening many ideas, determining what would be within their scope, and coming to a final agreement on what details could be decided at another time. 

And look how far they’ve come

City of Vancouver Proclamation

On June 8, YOSS organizers and the City of Vancouver will proclaim June 8, 2022 to June 7, 2023 to be Year of the Salish Sea. Join them at the Creekside Community Recreation Centre where they will read the City of Vancouver’s Year of the Salish Sea proclamation, view an exciting presentation by the Swim Drink Fish team and more.

David Suzuki Foundation Finalist

YOSS is also thrilled to be a finalist for the Future Ground Prize by the David Suzuki Foundation, an award that highlights youth-led initiatives in British Columbia and Ontario that make positive impacts on the environment and local communities. The Grand Prize, People’s Choice, and Rising Stars awards will all be announced on June 22nd at a live online event with David Suzuki and Severn Cullis-Suzuki. You can vote for YOSS to win the People’s Choice Prize until June 13th.

The team behind the Year of the Salish Sea continues to dream of a world where people are more aware of this beautiful body of water and ecosystem. Collectively, they hope that everyone will treat it with the care and respect that it deserves.

By enrolling in the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue’s Semester in Dialogue program, you’ll not only enrich your personal life, but also have the chance to make a positive impact on society. Sign up for our newsletter to keep informed of future Semester in Dialogue opportunities.