As one of the highest paid male models in the world, Simon Nessman has fronted campaigns for Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Bottega Veneta, Michael Kors, and Givenchy, but in 2012 he announced he would be scaling back on his modeling work and relocating to a secluded island off British Columbia’s rugged coast. This pivot laid the blueprint for what would become the Cedar Coast Field Station and fulfilled a dream of his years in the making.

Tell us about the genesis of the Cedar Coast Field Station.

The Cedar Coast Field Station is a dream that has been years in the making. It started 6 years ago when I left New York and moved to a remote island off the West Coast of Canada, a few hours drive from my childhood home. I immediately fell in love with Clayoquot Sound and with the off-grid lifestyle. In sharp contrast to the frantic pace of big city living, this place operated with an entirely different sense of time—one that is grounded in the fluctuations of its surrounding environment. Through this experience I developed a more ecologically grounded perspective. For example, I learned that when the sun comes out, it is the opportune time for energy intensive tasks like doing laundry, and charging electronics. When it’s summertime and the salmon are running, this is the time to catch and preserve food for the winter. And, when the spring rains are heavy, this is the time to utilize the rainwater catchment system and fill the water cisterns for the drier summer ahead. This experience of place-based time helped me develop a much deeper understanding of my own dependence on ecological health, which inspired me to facilitate similar experiences for others, through the creation of an ecological field station. Throughout my time at Quest University I also developed an appreciation for the importance of ecological research, which has become a core aspect of operations at Cedar Coast.

Talk to us about the mission statement of the station.

The mission of the Cedar Coast Field Station is to preserve ecological health through place-based research and education that celebrates the cultural and biological diversity of Clayoquot Sound. We are doing this by conducting primary ecological research, facilitating the work of visiting researchers, hosting visiting education groups—like grade school and university groups—and running our own in-house educational programs. The scope of our actions are focused locally here in Clayoquot Sound, but we are contributing to a global initiative of environmental conservation. Conservation of one area is ultimately futile unless we are able to address ecological health on a global scale.

What motivated you to create this project?

There were many motivating factors in the creation of this project. First off, I fell in love with Clayoquot Sound and living off-grid in this beautiful place. I wanted to find some way to maintain this lifestyle of off-grid living while still contributing to society in a meaningful way. I fell in love with the place, and realized that if I wanted to enjoy the place in its current state for many years to come then I’d better get to work preserving it.

Tell us about some of the initiatives you’re working on.

On the research side of things we have focused a great deal of energy on monitoring the out migrating juvenile salmon for parasitic sea lice and diseases. These out migrating salmon are vulnerable to a number of natural and anthropogenic threats, including disease and parasite transfer from open net fish farms. We are also working on more general baseline ecological data collection, including intertidal biodiversity, beach micro plastic surveys, and drone based kelp forest monitoring.

Alongside our research program we host a number of educational programs, including K-12 school groups, university groups, adult education groups, and summer camps. Each educational program run through the station includes an introduction to our ecological monitoring projects. In this way we are working to create synergy between the scientific community and the rest of the station users.

Do you ever feel conflicted earning a living in an industry that is the antithesis of sustainability and how do you mitigate that?

I’m sure there was a time when I would have considered the fashion industry to be the antithesis of sustainability, but I don’t think that is necessarily the case. Lately, I have seen an increasing number of companies that are challenging the status quo and pushing for a more sustainable fashion industry. Fashion as an idea is not fundamentally unsustainable. The current trends of fast fashion, contracting manufacturing overseas, and use of harmful chemicals in the manufacturing process are all unsustainable practices. Fortunately, there are alternatives to each of these harmful practices, and the fashion industry is fully capable of adopting these more sustainable alternatives.

How has your work at the station changed you and the way you live?

I am working much harder than I ever have before. Between acting as Director of the organization, project managing the construction of our new off-grid boat access facility, and modeling to fund the whole thing, I am testing the outer limits of my own capacity as a person. There are obvious consequences to taking on this kind of work load, and I’m looking forward to scaling back my hours upon completion of the facility.

Climate change is arguably the most pressing issue of this generation. What would you say to someone who feels that anything they do won’t make a difference?

Anything they do will make a difference. Everything on this planet that we share is connected—this is not an abstract concept—every action we take on a daily basis has both foreseeable and unforeseeable consequences. Use a little bit less electricity. Use a little bit less fossil fuel. Eat a little bit less meat. Buy a few less things. Slow down. Seems simple enough, no?

What are your long-term goals for the station?

My dream is for the station to be a self-sustaining hub of ecological research and education. I want it to be a place where people from all over the world come to learn about the incredible abundance of our local ecosystem, and reflect on the ecosystems surrounding their own homes. The main goal here is to get people thinking about how our actions influence the ecosystems we all depend on.

What do you hope someone can take away from the work you and your team are doing?

I hope people will come to understand that preservation of the environment is ultimately self-preservation. We cannot survive in any humane way without a healthy environment. This project is not about hugging trees feeling groovy—though I have nothing against either of these activities—rather, it is about preservation of life-sustaining resources that each and every one of us depends on.

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