K’omoks Estuary at the Forefront of Blue Carbon Research

Something interesting is happening in our local waters.  Project Watershed, a local environmental stewardship organization, is working on a project to learn more about how salt marsh and eelgrass beds in our local Estuary contribute to the uptake and storage of carbon from the atmosphere, called Blue Carbon.

Better understanding is required to determine the economic value of estuarine habitat restoration in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere and stored.   Any mechanism that reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could help offset human-caused carbon emissions.

In the K’omoks Estuary, both salt marsh and eelgrass beds capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and store it in the underlying sediments.  These estuarine habitats are widely recognized as important habitat for marine creatures and for foreshore resilience.  However, before they can be valued additionally for the carbon they store, fundamental research is required to link the two.  This activity is being pursued by Project Watershed with funding provided by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) – The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) is an intergovernmental organization that supports the cooperative environmental agenda of Canada, Mexico and the United States to green North America’s economy, address climate change by promoting a low-carbon economy, and protect its environment and the health of its citizens.   Project Watershed is one of just three organizations in all of Canada that received funding.

Angela Spooner (graduate Student) and Russell Prentice (PICS summer student intern taking sediment cores

Angela Spooner (graduate student) and Russell Prentice (PICS summer student intern) taking sediment c

The goals of the project are to develop a protocol suitable for other community groups to assess carbon stores and rate of carbon sequestration in estuarine habitats.  In addition, Project Watershed aims to foster greater community involvement and understanding of the environmental and economic benefits of eelgrass and salt marsh restoration.

The fieldwork for this project commenced in May of this year and will continue through the summer of 2015.  Sediment cores will be collected and assessed for the amount of carbon in the different layers beneath the surface.  This information can be used to determine the rate at which carbon is accumulated and stored over time.  Comparisons are being made between sites with eelgrass or salt marsh vegetation and sites void of vegetation to determine if the sediments below vegetated sites store more carbon.

Ultimately, the goal is to place a dollar value on the amount of carbon stored in these estuarine habitats so governments with jurisdiction over the estuary can use these to reduce their carbon tax burden.  Paul Horgen, Project Watershed Board Chair, says, “The result is a 4-way win: a win for the estuarine environment and associated fauna; a win for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; a win for protecting foreshores from storm surges due to climate change; a win to governments required to pay carbon taxes.”

This type of work relies heavily on community involvement.  If you are interested in getting involved, please contact Paul Horgen, Head of the Blue Carbon Team (p.horgen@utoronto.ca) or phone Project Watershed at (250-703-2871).

Project watershed’s Pacific Institute for Climate Studies Internship Report

Russell Prentice

I have had a busy and exciting first month with Project Watershed. In the first couple weeks I assisted with eelgrass bed restoration. My duties included the maintenance and operation of a small boat, preparing eel-grass for planting and shuttling divers to planting sites. I also helped to survey inter-tidal sites that will later be restored using a GPS.


After that I began to help with the collection of sediments that will be analyzed for their carbon content. I worked off the “Chetleo” from VIU to collect sub-tidal samples and also collected sediment cores in inter-tidal areas.


I have also been creating field equipment, such as quadrats and a plumb line, that will be used for our field work in the coming weeks.

Russell PrenticeProject Watershed Pacific Institute for Climate Studies Intern

Blue Carbon Pilot Project in Comox Valley Getting Attention

CVRecord-genericfeaturedimageBy  Mandy Larade – Comox Valley Recordposted Apr 9, 2014 at 4:00 PM

A letter of federal recognition was given to the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society on the Blue Carbon Pilot Project from federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

“Your organization’s contribution is an essential part of the environmental agenda. I wish the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society every success in carrying out this important initiative for a healthy environment,” writes the minister.

In March, the Blue Carbon Pilot Project received $230,000 through the North American Partnership for Environmental Community Action (NAPECA) grant program of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). They also accepted a $10,000 grant from the Pacific Institute of Climate Solutions to hire a student summer intern from a university — a first for the Blue Carbon Pilot Project.

Paul Horgen, chair of the board of the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society, is pleased with the minister’s recognition of the initiative, and hopes that both local and federal politicians will give ear to the cause. “I want to encourage politicians who don’t think about it to think about it,” Horgen says.

The Blue Carbon Pilot Project’s overall objective is to reduce the amounts of carbon dioxide damage in the environment, which is predicted to reduce climate change. The main goals include growing the estuarine habitat, restoring shorelines, and fostering a community understanding and action about the issue.

In total, British Columbia has 27, 200 kilometres of shoreline and 422 estuaries. Coastal vegetation such as marshes and seagrasses are incredibly efficient at absorbing and storing the carbon dioxide. The carbon stored within these aquatic environments is known as blue carbon.

Eelgrass, also known as Zostera marina, is one of the seagrasses that is able to hold the carbon. The education, preservation and expansion of eelgrass growth is a key component to the success of the project.

One of the next steps for the Blue Carbon Pilot Project is to figure out how to measure the carbon in these aquatic environments. “We need to measure what’s in the current sediments now, and take samples from a non-eelgrass location and an eelgrass location to measure the carbon,” Horgen says.

Comox Valley MLA Don McRae is excited to have project based in the Comox Valley, and believes that it will go beyond the local shorelines. “The project has a huge benefit to the Comox Valley, and potentially up and down the coast of North America,” McRae says. McRae notes that there are always environmental issues for local politicians to address in their communities, and that this one is well worth the time. “It’s a brilliant idea.”

In the meantime, the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society is waiting to hear back from other grant applications. Horgen says that once the amount of funding is known, then they can move forward in searching for the proper amount of volunteers and workers needed. “That’s one of the things I think is often not really well understood, is that stewardship groups bring volunteers and tourists in, and are providing economic input to the Comox Valley,” Horgen adds.

Map of different species using the estuary.

Project Watershed talks about Blue Carbon at TEDX

Looking back at 2013 I noticed we hadn’t yet posted about our TEDX talk so as a recap here it is! On Thursday May 23, 2013 a local group, Imagine Comox Valley, organised and presented a TEDX event.  A TEDX event is a local independently organised TED event where people from the community give talks about something they are passionate about and want to share with the broader community. The theme for the event was Revealing Hidden Local Talents and Dr.Paul Horgen of Project Watershed shared information about our groundbreaking Blue Carbon research.  Blue Bamboo has captured the talk on film and it is below for your enjoyment!

If you would like to view the rest of the talks visit the Imagine Comox Valley website or find them on YouTube.

Royston Trail Under Construction

Rebuilding the Royston Trail - Shoreline PhotosComox Valley Regional District (CVRD) is going ahead with the reconstruction of the Royston Waterfront Trail. More information and details on their plans can be found on the their website www.comoxvalleyrd.ca. Project Watershed and the Estuary Working Group are working with CVRD Parks Staff and the construction team to ensure that environmental values in the area are optimized. The environmental features that Project Watershed and the Estuary Working Group are interested in are:

• Breaching the Hilton Slough

• Adding Salt Marsh

Breaching the Hilton Slough will allow (tidal movement of water into the now stagnant algae slough). This will encourage a board range of marine flora and fauna to access that area. Once the slough is breached salt marsh will be added both inside the lagoon and outside along the foreshore. This will help to restore the saltmarsh areas back to their original condition before the railway construction and the booming ground activities damaged much of this area.

The saltmarsh restoration process will include mapping, foreshore saltmarsh vegetative reports and construction berms and saltmarsh benches.

Salt marsh is an important habitat type in estuaries. Unfortunately it is also one of the most threatened. Salt marsh losses in estuaries in BC range from 50 to 93%. Salt marsh not only provides habitat and food for marine species but also sequesters carbon helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

To see the construction as it progresses visit http://roystonhouse.ca/blog/. This blog by Ross Munro of Royston House shows pictures and brief comments on the development of the trail in his area.


Project Watershed Restoration Activities in the K’omoks Estuary

September 23-29 has been designated as National Estuary Week by the organization Restore Americas Estuaries so Project Watershed encourages you to get out and do something good for the estuary like picking up garbage or removing some invasive plants.  There are a variety of groups and locations registered for the Great Canadian Shoreline Clean-up including Project  Watershed and Comox Valley Nature who will be doing their work on 29 Sep.

Volunteers preparing to transplant eelgrass.  Photo by Crystal Norman

Volunteers preparing to transplant eelgrass. Photo by Crystal Norman of Unique Roots Photography (http://uniqueroots.ca)

Project Watershed would like to thank our volunteers and our sponsors for making this a very successful summer for Blue Carbon.  As mentioned, Project Watershed carried out a compensation transplant which resulted in around 34,000 stems being planted around the Trent River Estuary which should result  in a great deal of additional habitat for all the organisms that live there.

As well, thanks to a generous donation from the Pacific Salmon Foundation we were able to transplant around 4,000 stems near the Royston area.   This new vegetation will increase the carbon sink available in the K’omoks Estuary. We had planned to continue populating the area beside the Royston Wrecks which had been denuded due to years of being overshadowed by log booms but this proved impossible as the previous two transplants of less than 1,000 stems has grown and spread to the point that there is little room left for additional plants.

“I couldn’t believe how much eelgrass was in the bay when I went over there kayaking,” said Kathryn Clouston, an employee of Project Watershed. “It was great, too, to see a family of about a dozen mergansers taking advantage of the food that was sheltering in the eelgrass.”

Eelgrass filling the formerly empty bay beside the Royston Wrecks.  Photo by K Clouston

Eelgrass filling the formerly empty bay beside the Royston Wrecks. Photo by K Clouston


Project Watershed has also made some good progress on our Blue Carbon project thanks to some funding from the Climate Action Secretariat and our awesome volunteers.  Biologist Angela Spooner has taken some biomass measurements which provide some initial data on the amount of carbon that can be sequestered by eelgrass in various locations, both intertidal and subtidal.  We have also made some progress on verifying our eelgrass map thanks to all of the sponsors mentioned above.  We hope to continue progressing our Blue Carbon project with our stewardship partners in the years to come.

Map of different species using the estuary.

Project Watershed Goes Eelgrass Planting

With the help of Biologist Lora Tryon and some keen volunteers  Project Watershed restored eelgrass in the Royston area this summer (June 2013).

Eelgrass restoration involves transplanting shoots from one healthy dense bed to an area that is void of eelgrass. Eelgrass is a little picky as it only likes to grow at certain elevations so the transplant locations must be roughly the same depth as the beds the eelgrass was harvested from. Eelgrass grows from +1 meter above zero tide to -3 meters below zero tide. Meaning that some eelgrass can be planted in the intertidal zone by volunteers on the surface and some in the subtidal zone by divers.

This planting done in June was done in the intertidal zone by volunteers on the surface. The transplanted area extended an existing bed of eelgrass. Volunteers planted bundles of 10 shoots approximately every meter out from a transect line. Over time the transplanted shoots will grow and in fill the area so that in a few years the transplanted bed will resemble the adjacent healthy bed. In fact, by the time the volunteers were finished planting small crabs and other sea creatures were already moving into the freshly planted shoots!

The planting was made possible by  funding from the Pacific Salmon Foundation and TD Friends of the Environment. Watch the slideshow below to see the transplant for your self.

estuarypw's Eelgrass Transplanting album on Photobucket

Habitat work by 19 Wing Comox and Project Watershed

Published: June 19, 2013 2:00 PM, Updated: June 19, 2013 2:07 PM


A diver plants an eelgrass shoot in a bed as part of efforts to restore natural habitat at Goose Spit Marina. Photo by Lora Tryon

19 Wing is restoring marine habitat near Royston as compensation for the habitat affected by the maintenance dredging of the Goose Spit Marina that took place in January.   The dredging was required to remove sediment that built up around the pilings and threatened dock infrastructure and the safe use of the marina by various Canadian Armed Forces and Sea Cadet vessels.  “Dredging needed to be done to restore the capability of the marina,” said Maj. Mark Kierstead, 19 Wing construction engineering officer. “The project’s planning team consulted with K’ómoks First Nation and obtained approvals from several government agencies to ensure the project would be successful and environmentally responsible.”

19 Wing environmental staff developed the project’s mitigation and compensation plan after extensive discussions with local environment experts, including Project Watershed, a local charitable organization that promotes stewardship of local watersheds.  “Over the past few years Project Watershed has been involved with smaller eelgrass restoration projects and also created aerial eelgrass density maps of the entire K’omoks Estuary,” said Dr. Paul Horgen, Project Watershed’s Chairman of the board of directors. “This data has proved valuable to the Department of National Defence.”  The eelgrass harvesting and transplant work started on May 28 and will continue for four weeks. Working from a boat, a surface team prepares and tallies the eelgrass and a team of scuba divers transplants as many as 1,500 shoots a day.  “We will create over 3,000 square metres of new eelgrass habitat near the Trent River Estuary,” said Bob Allan, 19 Wing environmental officer. “We are very pleased to partner with Project Watershed because they have proven success with this specialized habitat restoration work.”  19 Wing will monitor the health and recovery of the habitats for the next five years to ensure the success of our project.

— 19 Wing Comox

Estuary ‘blue carbon’ initiative wins $30,000 grant

By Philip Round – Echo Staff



Pictured at the agreement signing alongside the Courtenay River Estuary on Tuesday are, from the right, Vancouver Island University President Ralph Nilson, the chair of Comox Valley Project Watershed Society Paul Horgen, B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake, and Comox Valley MLA Don McRae.

Research probing the potential of the Courtenay River Estuary to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is to move forward with the help of a $30,000 provincial grant.

B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake was at the estuary wildlife viewing area on Comox Road on Tuesday to sign a memorandum of agreement with the President of Vancouver Island University, Ralph Nilson, and the chair of Comox Valley Project Watershed, Paul Horgen.

The three-way partnership is intended to produce a better understanding of how coastal communities can combine action on climate change and improvements to coastal ecosystems while at the same time securing economic benefits from such activities.

So-called ‘blue carbon’ is the carbon dioxide naturally absorbed from the atmosphere and stored in the marine environment through plants like eelgrass, sediment and even shellfish.

Some people believe the marine potential for sequestration is even more significant that that known to exist through land-based plants and trees.

Horgen said eelgrass meadows were disappearing from coastal estuaries as a result of pollution, logging activities, habitat destruction and burial, and their disappearance represented a loss of an important carbon sink.

“Restoration efforts have economic and climate adaptation benefits and provide a key wildlife habitat – a hat trick for the environment,” he suggested.

“We look forward to working with the Province and VIU to make the Comox Valley blue carbon project a local effort with international ramifications.”

Nilson agreed, suggesting research and restoration efforts “will not only have a positive local impact but potential global application in mitigating climate change.”

It was early days but, he suggested, the three partners could “collectively do some very exciting things.”

And Minister Lake said there were hundreds of estuaries large and small in B.C. alone, and if the research produced positive results, tremendous opportunities could be opened up.

“The money today is relatively small, but the potential applications and benefits are huge,” he commented.

Comox Valley MLA Don McRae added: “Blue carbon is the point where ecological restoration, greenhouse gas reduction and climate change adaptation converge.”

He praised Horgen and regional district Area B director Jim Gillis for pursuing the issue and helping prepare the information that had enabled him to put the case for research funding to his government colleagues.



EDITORIAL: Keep reading for good news about blue carbon

By Editorial – Comox Valley Record
Published: April 17, 2013 4:00 PM; Updated: April 17, 2013 4:55 PM


If you knew this editorial involved blue carbon or carbon sequestration, would you read on?

Nonetheless, we ask that you keep reading.

For the second time in four months, Environment Minister Terry Lake was in the Comox Valley last week to deal with the issue.

Just before Christmas, he was in MLA Don McRae’s office with several other people, including Project Watershed chair Paul Horgen, to discuss the topic.

Last week, Lake visited again to sign a memorandum of understanding with Project Watershed and Vancouver Island University.

At stake — the health of B.C.’s many estuaries and the future of the planet.

The B.C. Ministry of Environment is providing a modest $30,000 toward the first phase of scientific research planning for blue carbon projects in this region.

If successful, the partnership will lead to better understanding of climate change, improvements to coastal ecosystems and possibly provide economic benefits.

Blue carbon the carbon that is stored in the marine environment, shellfish, plants and sediment. According to Lake’s ministry, “healthy estuaries remove and store carbon dioxide, possibly even more effectively than plants on land.”

Removing CO2 from the atmosphere reduces global warming. Eelgrass, for example, naturally absorbs and stores carbon dioxide.

Horgen notes, however, that eelgrass meadows are disappearing from estuaries due to pollution and habitat destruction.

Horgen, an extremely bright and educated man with the ability to make complex things understandable, is leading a drive to restore the health of the Courtenay River estuary in particular.

While it’s complicated, doing so would increase the amount of eelgrass, which would raise the amount of CO2 taken from the air, which could lead to the sale of greenhouse gas offsets, which would bring money to the Comox Valley.

Horgen’s leadership in the Comox Valley could lead to better health in B.C.’s 422 estuaries.