Since it was first proposed to the United Nations 30 years ago, World Oceans Day has raised awareness of human impact on the marine world. This June 8, a multitude of Sunshine Coast initiatives are continuing their work to restore the local marine environment — and they're inviting you to help.
Events you can join
Following a virtual film festival in 2021, the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association (SCCA) is once again hosting a multi-day series of events, and this year will be virtual and in-person. Between June 4 and 10, the SCCA's calendar of offerings includes film screening at Ravens Cry Theatre (June 4), an invitation to citizen science with Boots on the Beach (June 7 at Friendship Park, 4 p.m.), short films from the Salish Sea and more. Find details at worldoceansday-scca.net.
2,000 eelgrass shoots
On June 7, the day before World Oceans Day, volunteers are invited to help SeaChange transplant eelgrass.
“Eelgrass is one of the most important marine habitats in our local waters,” Fiona Beaty, one of the project coordinators, told Coast Reporter. “It's a plant that forms really lush underwater meadows that provide habitat and refuge for hundreds of different species in the Pacific Northwest.” But eelgrass has been declining as it faces two predominant threats: coastal development and nearshore human activities, and climate change.
Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., volunteers of all ages are invited to help tie eelgrass shoots to washers at Armours Beach in Gibsons. From there, the shoots will be planted at Gambier Island’s Cotton Bay to support species such as Chinook salmon, Dungeness crabs, juvenile rockfish and forage fish, including herring.
The event will mark the last such transplant for the Salish Sea Nearshore Habitat Recovery Project, as it wraps up after four years this summer. The project partnered with community members to transplant the life-sustaining habitat in Howe Sound/Átl'ḵa7tsem, and Cotton Bay has been one of their most successful sites. Only one of their transplant sites has failed, due to water quality, which is a high success rate, Beaty said.
“It's really important that we try to protect this plant, because it's also quite vulnerable to human activities. It likes to grow where we like to swim and anchor our boats and build our docks. So there's a natural conflict there between humans and this important plant,” Beaty said. “We want to try to raise awareness and encourage marine stakeholders and water users to be as mindful as they can be, and to avoid destroying this plant.”
The week of World Oceans Day, divers will be establishing marker buoys near Armours Beach for a voluntary no-anchor zone that will protect previously transplanted eelgrass from being scoured.
Year of the Seabin
Since last World Oceans Day, the Sunshine Coast’s first Seabin has been hard at work collecting trash from the surface of Porpoise Bay. On May 27 last year, the Sechelt Rotary Club installed the trash-collecting device at Sunshine Coast Air’s floating docks. It made an immediate impact when it started collecting small pieces of styrofoam and inspired Sunshine Coast Air to remove two of its old docks.
Since then, the Seabin was moved to Mackenzie Marina, because it had been taking in too much seaweed, algae and jellyfish, but seems to be running into the same issue there. (The removed seaweed was repurposed in Sechelt gardens.) Now, Mike Price of the Sechelt Rotary Club said they’re looking for a dock with 24/7 electricity to run the Seabin. They’re hoping to establish a team with teachers and students to analyze the material the Seabin collects.
Hope for herring
The third year of the Sunshine Coast's Herring Enhancement Program (HEP) saw not one but two spawns of herring eggs. All of the Rotary Clubs of the Sunshine Coast (as well as Powell River and Bowen Island) installed herring curtains off docks to act as temporary spawning grounds.
The herring populations and the eelgrass and kelp they rely on have been decimated, Margie Garrard of the Sechelt Rotary Club said, calling herring the “kingpin of the foodchain.”
In Sechelt alone, the project was able to double last year’s efforts by installing a dozen curtains in three locations at the mouth of Porpoise Bay, near the Lighthouse Pub, and a total of 30 curtains.
Next, the club hopes to help develop a similar initiative on Vancouver Island, helping out other areas of the Salish Sea. Garraird said they also hope to get the curtains in place early enough, as the herring seem to be coming earlier and earlier each year.
The project has ramped up in its several years on the Coast. In 2019, 2020 and 2021, around 100 curtains were installed between Egmont and Langdale, the HEP 2021 report states.
This year, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) took samples from two of Sechelt’s curtains, which they hope to identify by DNA in order to track the herrings’ movement and lifecycle.
“That will really help inform other efforts in the management of the species, so we were very happy to participate in this essential marine research,” Garrard said.
While all of the curtains are out of the water for the year, the volunteers still need help finding a safe place to store them. The program is also looking for new locations to place the curtains early next year, on an accessible dock near relatively clean and calm water. (Dock owners can reach out to Mike Price at email@example.com.) The Sechelt Rotary Club is also in the process of putting up signs reminding people to not remove seaweed from the beach in the springtime, as they may be home to active roe.
Help the kelp
There is another project currently under way that hopes to reduce the need for herring curtains by addressing the problem at its source. Biologist Lee-Ann Ennis has been cultivating kelp and growing it on lines suspended above the ocean floor — away from bottom feeders — in hopes to replenish the near-shore habitat that supports many other species. This year, Ennis’s test to transfer the kelp off-line and into the wild has been successful, and she plans to scale up the project this year.
Plans for a community kelp restoration project are also in the works, and the public will be invited to participate (follow along on Instagram @VitalKelp). Ennis said she’s been inspired by three Sunshine Coast students, now studying at the University of Victoria, who have joined as volunteers.
Beyond World Oceans Day
Several local groups have year-round programs and more events looking for helping hands.