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Elphinstone Chronicles: Softening the shores of Bonniebrook

How we can help prepare Ocean Beach Esplanade for rising seas
Bonnie Brook Beach at high tide with a west wind creating waves that are held back from the Esplanade by beach logs and shoreline bushes. 

Where is your favourite place to watch the sunset on the Coast? For many, it’s Bonniebrook. Ocean Beach Esplanade in Area E has stunning, flat walking terrain, sand bars, an award-winning restaurant that has been around so long my parents celebrated their engagement party there, and the trifecta that is Chaster Creek, Chaster Park, and Chaster House Community Hall, all on an estuary home to a time-honoured salmon run. But with outworn development, storm surges and rising sea levels, our beloved sunset spot of paradise could get washed away.  

The last Elphinstone Community Association meeting guest was Kelly Loch, a Green Shores Projects Coordinator. Green Shores offers three levels of voluntary programs to address shoreline problems with nature-based solutions founded in science. Do you want to preserve the physical shoreline? Reduce pollutants entering local aquatic environments? Fix the impact of climate change, development and erosion? Then this ECA meeting was for you. Luckily, if you missed it, this is the run down. 

Loch taught us about shoreline hardening versus shoreline softening. Modern minds jump to hardening armour to protect their beachfront: think hard structures, such as seawalls, bulkheads, and breakwaters. But scientific research says shoreline hardening is a quick fix that does not last. Hardening the beachfront results in a loss of coastal habitats, increased erosion of properties and high maintenance reconstruction costs after bad weather. The flipside is shoreline softening, which often involves dismantling grey cement walls. Shoreline softening reduces property loss, pollution entering the water, and damage caused by storms. Berms, logs, active planting, and maintaining a natural slope between land and sea are all examples of creating a softer shoreline.  

Without a Stanley Park-style seawall, Bonniebrook retains some natural shoreline softening. Mother Nature will need a hand though, so Loch specified some suggestions for us.  

Chaster House, you may remember, has that low stone wall that sections off the backyard. Loch suggests the wall could be modified to restore the habitat while protecting the building’s infrastructure. The Esplanade parallel to the beach is mostly sheltered by beach logs and bushes. Improving this barricade with a softening-hybrid design, like a berm made of driftwood and rock, could protect properties from future erosion. Brian Thicke of the Ocean Beach Esplanade Neighbourhood Association admits “rising sea levels will be a challenge for us” who live along Bonniebrook. “However, there are a lot of good years ahead if we take care of our beach and foreshore.”  

People and dogs alike love our big lawn at Chaster Park, where friends and families gather on the regular. To protect it when those king tides breach, Loch recommends adding more native plants at the fringes to improve the lawn’s structure. Perhaps low-lying plants that won’t block our view at sunset. She noticed a lot of scotch broom, and let’s be honest, Elphinstone is covered with invasive yellow broom that we should be removing. But Loch shared a study which found 50 per cent of food consumed by juvenile salmon comes from terrestrial sources, such as leaves and bugs. It reminded me of the yellow warning sign I always see at the Chaster Trifecta, since herbicide is applied to knotweed on the roadside there. Removing invasive plants is a precarious balancing act in this delicate little ecosystem. 

Our Area E Director, Donna McMahon, shared that the SCRD is applying for a grant to get an engineering consultant to assess the creek and develop some (non)concrete solutions. This was inspired by all the damage to the access bridge leading to Chaster House in the flooding of last year, which is still out of commission. Thicke expressed his wish for “a coastal engineer assessing the complicated bit of shoreline along Chaster House/Park and making recommendations that will preserve these community assets.” 

If you would like to become part of the Green Shores program for your home or community, reach out to Green Shore and get started. 

If you’re kicking yourself for missing this enlightening ECA meeting, you’re in for an incredibly mopey December. The ECA will be breaking this month, so tuned for January to get your fix for all things Area E. 

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