Sailing trip highlights marine mammals

Documentary featuring resident and marine ecologist Laura Winter playing locally Jan. 26 and Feb. 6

Laura Winter set sail with her boyfriend Thorsten Böhnke to film the second part of their documentary series called The Wild Windwards


Step outside Parksville Qualicum Beach and experience some of the biodiversity of the Caribbean in a documentary screening in Deep Bay next weekend.

The Wild Windwards is the second part in a documentary series created by part-time Bowser resident Laura Winter and her boyfriend Thorsten Böhnke. The film follows them on a sailing expedition as they document conservation projects and a variety of wildlife on land and sea.

The couple is working on completing a series called Running Downwind, and last year they screened the first part entitled Hitchhiking across the Atlantic, at the Deep Bay Marine Field Station.

Now the second part, The Wild Windwards, will be shown Sunday, Jan. 26 and Feb. 6 at the same location.

Winter grew up in Vancouver and completed her master’s degree in marine ecology in Germany. During her studies in that country she met Böhnke, a filmmaker and experienced sailor with a diploma in Naval architecture.

In Hitchhiking across the Atlantic, Winter and Böhnke “hitchhiked” on boats around the Canary Islands and Cape Verde, visiting conservation projects and filming footage of nesting birds, pilot whales and loggerhead sea turtles, among other marine wildlife.

The Wild Windwards continues on where the first film finished (although there is a recap in the beginning so newcomers will be up to speed). It begins with Böhnke purchasing a boat and Winter joining him as they set off to Trinidad and Tobago.

In the film the couple meet a Canadian researcher from Halifax who is studying sperm whales around the island nation Dominica. Winter and Böhnke had their own experience with the whales when a pod playfully swam up to their boat and checked them out.

“It was really amazing, one day they came up close to the boat and were curious and looking at us, you could tell they were looking at the people at the boat.”

There is little known about them, Winter explained, and the researcher was looking into their social structure, how they function in groups and was also educating local whale-watching boats about the dangers of getting too close to them. He was also fighting to have the marine area around Dominica declared a marine sanctuary.

In the documentary, Winter and Böhnke also visit a nature centre in the Northern Range mountains of Trinidad.

“There is such amazing bird life there,” said Winter. “It is much more diverse than the other Caribbean Islands in terms of birds species and other animals.”

They met a couple men who were tracking the different bird species to learn more about them, Winter said.

Outside the boundaries of the sanctuary you could see humans encroaching on the rainforest, Winter explained, such as quarrying, and crop planting that led to the destabilization of nearby slopes.

In Bequia, the second largest island in the Grenadines, they met a guy who worked rehabilitating turtles, and in Trinidad they visited a protected area for Leatherback turtles.

“This is a pretty unique thing in the world,” said Böhnke. “They have such a large amount of turtles coming to the beach and we’re talking about an endangered species. So it’s really impressive what they established in 20 years,” he said, adding that now there are almost more turtles than the beach can handle.

One of the issues facing marine life in that area that stuck with both Winter and Böhnke long after they left was the amount of plastic and styrofoam floating in these otherwise pristine areas.

“You go up a river that is either a tourist attraction or protected and then you go up a side arm and all of a sudden it’s just littered with plastic and its really sort of baffling how much plastic there is. And you think, where did this all come from?”

This garbage will eventually be washed into the ocean and broken down into microplastics, Winter said. At that point it will get eaten by plankton, fish and turtles and many will die as a result.

Böhnke said it was eye opening to see many of the negative impacts humans are creating for the wildlife of that region.

“We are living in our pampered word and we are using a lot of material which stays in the system, in nature, for quite a while until it decays. People talk about 500 years for plastics, and it really doesn’t belong there,” he said.

It was also disheartening to see endangered species being eaten throughout these countries.  Winter saw endangered Hammerhead sharks being sold at fish markets and talked to tourists who had sampled some endangered turtle soup.

Winter said even though these species are listed as endangered, the individual countries need to put policies in place to prevent locals from serving it.

Böhnke said although they documented some worrying environmental issues, there were many positive things they were able to capture in their film. Lying next to the giant Leatherback turtles on the beach for instance, and watching the baby turtles crawl out of their shells.

Winter said she thinks it is important for people to see what she and Böhnke have seen on their journeys.

“To see nature in the wild and also feel this sense of awe and fascination. These really cool things are out there and often you don’t see it or don’t have an opportunity to see them.”

She said she also hopes it makes people more aware of how they impact the environment and what each of us can each do in our own daily lives.

The film runs from from 2 to 4:15 on Jan. 26 and from 7 to 9:15 on Feb. 6. including a question and answer period. Tickets are $10 and snacks and drinks will be available to purchase. Get tickets from the Courtyard Cafe in Qualicum Beach, the Salish Sea Market in Bowser, the Deep Bay Marine Station or by calling 250-740-6611 to reserve tickets. Tickets will not be available at the door.

All the proceeds go back into the project to continue filming the next leg, and funds are given to the environmental projects along the way. Some money from DVD sales last year also went to the aid victims of the typhoon in the Philippines.

For more on the project visit





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