Geoff de Ruiter wants to do his part to raise awareness of water conditions in the Cowichan River.
De Ruiter, a PhD graduate in natural resources and environmental studies, plans to swim 50 kilometres in the river, all the way from Cowichan Lake to the Strait of Georgia, to raise awareness of the two top threats to the river’s ecosystem on June 30.
He said those threats are reduced water flows due to climate change and the ecotoxins in common sunscreens that are used by people swimming and recreating on the river.
“Over the past decade, I have swam many parts of the river and have noticed a deep change in the aquatic life,” said de Ruiter, who resides with his family in homes on Pender Island and Victoria.
“Mainly, I have seen the crayfish population die off to a fraction of what it was before, while others have seen different impacts. It hurts me to see the river suffer. This is a symptom of human ecological pressures but, thankfully, they are solvable with a concerted effort.”
De Ruiter said the weir in Cowichan Lake needs to be raised to better control water flows in the river, and people need to start using mineral sunscreens that are safer for aquatic ecosystems than sunscreens that have chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate that are believed to be causing the death and collapse of river invertebrate populations that support the local aquatic food chain.
“We can do this and recover a beautiful vibrant ecosystem we can continue to enjoy,” he said.
“The B.C. government can take the lead on raising the Cowichan Lake weir and recover a critically threatened river and people can use mineral-based sunscreens that contain zinc oxide.”
De Ruiter will leave on what he expects could be a 12 to 14 hour swim on Sunday at around 8 a.m. at the weir.