Since 2008 we at Project Watershed have endeavored to protect and restore the K’ómoks Estuary to its former glory. To guide this work, we chose a traditional aboriginal principle — Keeping it Living. This principle has become the banner for our public outreach efforts which include an art and literature competition and silent auction. We work with the Estuary Working Group and are involved in a variety of projects from awareness raising, research, mapping, restoration, protection, to land acquisition. Scroll down to the news feed below to see what we have been up to lately or click on the links to find out more.
An estuary is the part of the wide lower course of a river where its current is met by the tides. Estuaries are where salt and fresh water meet. They are rare, extremely productive and important habitats making it imperative we restore and protect them to the best of our ability. They have biodiversity greater than tropical rainforests and sequester carbon at an estimated rate of about 90 times greater than forested sites of equal area. On the coast of British Columbia 80% of marine species use estuaries for some portion of their life cycle. Since they are where fresh and salt waters meet work in an estuary benefits both the fresh water and salt water environments and species.
The K’omoks Estuary (formerly the Courtenay River Estuary), second only in importance to the Fraser River Estuary, is a special and unique feature of the Comox Valley. It is one of only eight Class 1 estuaries in British Columbia and provides habitat for 145 bird species (more than 70,000 birds), 218 plant species, 29 fish species (including all five species of pacific salmon) and innumerable species of intertidal animals (clams, worms, bacteria, viruses, etc.). To learn more visit the Comox Valley Naturalists website at http://comoxvalleynaturalist.bc.ca/nature-viewing-guide/1-courtenay-rivercomox-bay-area/courtenay-river-estuary-riverway-and-airpark/.
Another reason the K’omoks Estuary is especially special is the abundance of well preserved wooden stakes that make up ancient fish traps. Nancy Greene and David Mcgee, who have been studying these stakes for many years, estimate that there are over 150,000 of them pounded into the sediment. We know that indigenous people have lived on the estuary’s shores for thousands of years, obtaining food and shelter in harmony with the natural eco-system. The large aboriginal trap fishery, maintained in the estuary for well over 1,000 years (Nancy and David have carbon dated one stake to be around 1400 years before present), was conducted without depleting the fish resources or habitat.
The K’omoks Estuary has been severely impacted over the years by industrial activity and changes are required if the estuary’s natural features are to be preserved. The estuary is also geographically divided into four distinct political jurisdictions with no common agreement as to how the estuary should be protected for future generations.
To learn more about estuaries visit www.estuaries.gov.
In 2006, Project Watershed created the Stewards of the Puntledge Education Series, funded in part by the Vancouver Foundation. At the conclusion of the series, it became apparent that an additional forum on the then named Courtenay River Estuary was needed. Issues that arose were: that a major parcel of land in the estuary, the site of a former saw mill, had been put up for sale; that further industrial development of this site would be detrimental to the long term health of the estuary; that plans for a gas station located adjacent to the estuary were proceeding; that seal predation of salmon stocks in the Courtenay River was disconcerting and finally; that any efforts to protect and restore the estuary faced the challenge of obtaining the co-operation of four local governments as well as provincial and federal authorities.
Project Watershed proceeded to organize an Estuary Forum in October 2008 called “The Heart of the Watershed”. It was highly successful, with upwards of 300+ participants. An outcome of the forum was the formation of the Estuary Working Group which includes members representing eleven environmental organizations and DFO. The Estuary Working Group is a sub committee of Project Watershed and aims to restore and protect the K’ómoks Estuary. The group has compiled a Vision Document to guide their work. The Estuary Working Group is in close contact with the Regional District and the K’omoks First Nation, keeping them abreast of plans to build partnerships with government and public interest groups to promote estuary protection and restoration. For more information about the Estuary Working Group click here.
For more complete information on current projects, please visit – http://projectwatershed.ca/estuary-stewardship/komoks-estuary-projects/