You have heard it before, "all things are connected."
Can you connect beach sand grains to the food chain of Pacific salmon, blue herons or killer whales? These species are some of the hundreds of predators on the "forage fishes" of the sea. Herring are most familiar, but surf smelt, Pacific sand lance, and capelin are species that spawn on marine shorelines. Let's go on a discovery of connections.
Have you seen silvery surf smelt leaping at high tide? Using the beach surf, ripened female smelt rush to release their eggs. The one mm eggs produce an anchor-grabbing membrane that catches pea-sized pebbles -a weight belt that tumbles the eggs to incubate in nurseries a few centimeters below the beach surface.
In winter, Pacific sand lance move to fine gravel/sand beach areas for spawning. After weeks below the surface, these tiny beach babies, only three mm long, swim out with the ebbing tide.
From these little fishes, big things grow. The year round abundance of forage fish determines the survival of larger predators. For species of rockfish and salmon, estimates of their reliance on Pacific sand lance alone is 10 to 50 per cent of their diet.
Marine shore spawners face an uncertain future in British Columbia. In terms of hectare, intertidal spawning beaches are one of the most finite habitat types found in the Strait of Georgia. Shoreline alterations for human developments can result in the loss of spawning habitat. Recently, local communities have begun sampling beaches to document and protect crucial habitat.
As you enjoy your favourite ocean walk on the beach, remember to connect the role of our beaches in providing food for our marine food web, and remember the need to protect the spawning habitats at your very feet.
A presentation and training workshop will be held on Sunday, May 10 at Chaster House in Gibsons, with Ramona C. de Graaf, a marine biologist working with communities throughout British Columbia.
To save your space, contact Dianne Sanford at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 604-885-6283.