When Tracy Robinson went to bed on Oct. 12, 2016, she thought about spending time on the water the next day, monitoring crab fisheries.

Unfortunately, that's not what the next day held in store.

At 1:13 on the morning of Oct. 13 (local time), the tugboat Nathan E. Stewart and its barge DBL 55 ran aground on a shallow underwater reef near Bella Bella on the central coast of British Columbia, in the territory of the Heiltsuk First Nation.


Diesel spilled by the Nathan E. Stewart (top center) streams into the water. Image via Heiltsuk Nation, used with permission.

For hours, breaking waves slammed its hull up and down into the reef, ripping holes in its fuel and oil tanks. Just before 10 a.m., the tug sank, and upward of 27,000 gallons of marine diesel began leaking out into the sea.

Robinson was one of the first people on the scene of the spill.

Robinson in her boat, tending to containment booms. Image via Heiltsuk Nation, used with permission.

For the first 36 hours, everything was chaos. The private company that oversees oil spill cleanup on Canada's west coast had boats that could help — but they were 185 miles and a full day's trip away. There were additional supplies and staff en route from Vancouver, but the small planes that flew them up the coast couldn't get out in bad weather for three days.  In the absence of leadership, members of the local First Nation, the Heiltsuk, took to their boats and stepped in.

"My partner and I were out there just before 10, just after the tug sank," Robinson said. "There were Heiltsuk boats pushing on the barge to keep it off the rocks. We started grabbing boom and waited for other Heiltsuk members to come out with the absorbent noodle boom, just trying to stop the diesel from spewing into Gale Pass. That was all we had and all we could do."

Cleaning up diesel in cold seawater isn't easy, especially on B.C.'s wild, rugged central coast.

There are strong marine currents, big storms, and rocky coastlines that make it hard to create containment plans. There are a million places where diesel can pool. It sticks to low-hanging tree branches and tall sea grass; it adheres to rocky beaches at high tide, then streams out into deeper water when the tide retreats.

Containment booms, a popular means of keeping oil in place so it can be recovered, are basically useless there because the wave action forces the diesel over their tops or underneath. Over the last 30 days, currents and storms have caused the booms to fail again and again, sometimes even pulling them apart, scattering beaches with diesel-soaked padding and styrofoam pellets.

The remains of a containment boom on a beach near Gale Creek. Image via April Bencze/Heiltsuk Nation, used with permission.

The Heiltsuk understand these lands and waters better than anyone. They also know what a spill like this means for the area and the people who live there.

When the tug ran aground, it did so on Athlone Island, beside the mouth of a narrow marine passage named Gale Creek. Nicknamed the "breadbasket," it's a particularly important hunting, fishing, and harvesting ground for the Heiltsuk people; they harvest more than 25 different food species there, from cockles and clams to sockeye and coho salmon. The Heiltsuk sell some of their harvests through a small commercial fishery and keep the rest to feed their families.

Cleanup crews deploy absorbent pads to soak up diesel in Gale Creek. Image via Heiltsuk Nation, used with permission.

Robinson's family has a strong connection to Gale Creek. "My mom was a commercial clam digger for 20 years, and she worked there," she says. "Now I'm working on the water, and I was going to do my first clam fishery there this year. After the spill, we don't know when we'll be able to harvest there again."

A sea otter floats lazily in Gale Creek with the diesel sheen nearby. Image via Tavish Campbell/Heiltsuk Nation, used with permission.

A full month after the spill, there's finally a break in the weather long enough to start the process of dragging the tug off the reef and hoisting it on to a barge. Even that is slow-going and frustrating.

Once it is gone, many of the 200+ engineers and workers who've converged on Bella Bella will leave, and the Heiltsuk will be left to oversee the long process of recovery.

Cleanup crews collect soiled containment boom from the beach behind the Nathan E. Stewart wreck (top right). Image via Heiltsuk Nation, used with permission.

"When I was younger, my mom and I did a restorative justice program where we lived out in Gale Creek for a month," revealed Robinson, her voice breaking. "We had brought food, but we tried to eat as much as we could off the land. We ate mussels off the rocks, picked seaweed and sea asparagus off the beach. My mom pulled cedar bark, and we would weave baskets or cedar roses, trying to learn to live off the land. It was rejuvenating and brought back the culture in me. Now, I feel so lost and I feel so sorry for my kids. They’re never going to experience the full riches, the full amazingness of Gale Creek."

During the month the Nathan E. Stewart spent submerged off Bella Bella, Canada's federal government promised to implement changes that would make spill cleanup on British Columbia's central coast faster and simpler.

Prime Minister Trudeau's long-promised ban on oil tankers is guaranteed to come before the end of the year, and the Heiltsuk have asked him to make the announcement in Bella Bella. While those regulations are long overdue, they cannot fix the damage done here. The cultural, environmental, and psychological impacts of this spill will reverberate for a long time.

Robinson with family on the beach near Bella Bella. Image via Tracy Robinson, used with permission.

For Robinson, right now, being out on the water, helping however she can, is all she wants to do. "I was out on the water for 21 days straight with this spill. There's nowhere else I'd rather be," she said.

"I don't know what's going to happen when the tug is finally out of the water. I just know I'll be out there. The government says that our oil spill response system should be 'world-class.' But if anyone is world class right now, it’s the Heiltsuk."

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

Keep Reading Show less
Pets

Ginger the dog reunited with family 5 years after being stolen

Ginger's family never gave up hope, and it payed off.

Ginger the dog was missing for five years before being reunited with her family.

A sweet pup is finally home with her family where she belongs after way too many years away.

Ginger the dog was stolen from her family back in 2017. Her owner, Barney Lattimore of Janesville, Wisconsin, never gave up the hope that his sweet girl was out there somewhere. Whenever he'd see a dog listed on a rescue website or humane society website that even remotely resembled his Ginger, he would inquire about the dog. Unfortunately, it was never her. You'd think that after a while he would stop, but if he had, he likely wouldn't have gotten the sweetest reunion.

Keep Reading Show less

"Veteran" mom and "new" mom parent differently.

When a couple has their first child, they start out with the greatest of intentions and expectations. The child will only eat organic food. They will never watch TV or have screen time and will always stay clean.

But soon, reality sets in and if they have more kids, they'll probably be raised with a lot less attention. As a result, first-born kids turn out a bit differently than their younger siblings.

"Rules are a bit more rigid, attention and validation is directed and somewhat excessive," Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist, told Parents. "As a result, firstborns tend to be leaders, high achievers, people-pleasing, rule-following and conscientious, several of the qualities that tend to predict success."

Keep Reading Show less