On the Radar: Maleea Acker

Photo by Brennan Hinchsliff.
Photo by Brennan Hinchsliff.

Chantelle Spicer
Contributor
The Navigator

On March 12, VIU played host to another part of the Science and Technology Lectures, which hosted Maleea Acker presenting her ideas and research on the Garry Oak Meadows of Southern Vancouver Island. After receiving her Masters in Literature at UVic, she attended residency programs across Canada, the US, Mexico, and Spain. She returned to Vancouver Island full of ideas of home and what it meant to her. This brought her to a rare and fragile ecosystem which embodied these ideas: the deep meadows of Garry Oak ecosystems.

These ecosystems were tended by the First Nations bands of the Southern Coast (and Nanaimo) for thousands of years before Europeans landed. They used the meadows as a food source for cammas (a source of starch similar to potatoes) and many other staples, as they allow for much diversity in both plant and animal life. When the coast was first formally settled, many of these meadows were lost to Europeans for agricultural purposes, with only four per cent of the intact meadows remaining currently.

Proclaiming herself as “not a scientist,” Acker presented her ideas of what these ecosystems mean beyond the ecology and preservation itself. Instead, she questions what it potentially means to us as Island residents, and the importance of place and home.

Navigator: What is important about these ecosystems and why have the restoration?

Maleea Acker: It is an emotional and spiritual aesthetic. We are experiencing a lack of satisfaction from consumerist society that needs to be filled. These meadows show us what is integral to being human. These ecosystems provide us with a feeling of home and solace. They remind us of where we come from, so restoring them is not only a habitat for wildlife, but also for ourselves.

N: This is obviously a passion of yours. How do these ecosystems affect you on a personal level?

MA: [This research] helped me to realize what home is. So many people come from elsewhere and, after having spent so much time abroad myself, researching [Garry Oaks] reminded me of what it means to be home and have my feet on the ground.

N: It must be very difficult to not be affected by the science of these restorations. How does this affect your personal view?

MA: It definitely showed me how more complex this issue was than I first realized! It has also shown me where I can contribute as an artist. This integration and connection between art and science is also very important. It shows us that the feelings we have about these issues really matter. As for the scientists themselves, I am in awe of the time and care they put into these restorations.

N: What are the largest impediments to restoration?

MA: Money! There are many issues with government funding for these restorations. Invasive species (such as scotch broom and English Ivy) are brought to the Island and escape their gardens. Also, the disjointedness we, as humans, experience from the natural world. They all play equal roles in making these restorations difficult.

N: What do you see as the future for these restorations?

MA: Well, I fear for the trends I see in the government’s view on them. However, the community and non-profit organizations are stronger and more united than ever. There are also many excited projects related to these restorations, such as the Bluebird Relocations (integrating species back into the ecosystems). These are the things that keep me hopeful!

N: Where will this research take you? How will it help you reach your own goals?

MA: I have just been accepted into the doctorate program at UVic and my thesis is based on my research. I am going to explore the idea of the world being a garden—that it is cultivated and collaborated on by all species. I want to explore different ways to approach wilderness and have other people question it as well. [This wilderness] is both around and within us.

The Science and Technology lectures continue until April 9, which will host a lecture on songbird banding at Buttertubs Marsh, presented by Dr. Eric Demers. This event will take place from 7-8pm, building 356, room 109.

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