The K’ómoks Estuary is the gem in the crown of the Comox Valley and the Heart of our Watershed. Since 2008, we at Project Watershed have endeavored to protect and restore the K’ómoks Estuary to its former glory. We work with the Estuary Working Group, which is comprised of representatives from more than 12 other stewardship groups in the Valley, and are involved in a variety of projects from awareness raising, research, mapping, restoration, protection, to land acquisition. To guide this work, we chose a traditional aboriginal principle — Keeping it Living and added “the return of abundance” which comes from the name “Comox” (“K’ómoks”), which means “land of plenty or abundance.” With a mission to bring about the return of abundance, the Keeping It Living project is dedicated to the preservation of marshes, sloughs, mud flats, gravel beds, shore grasses, shrubs, forest, streams, rivers, and watersheds that provide nutrients to nourish estuary life. The Keeping It Living principle has also become the banner for our public outreach efforts which includes an artistic component; often in the form of an art competition and silent auction.
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’ómoks 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.). You can now visit and explore our new Interactive Estuary Map which contains all the data we have amassed on our estuary – our official launch will be in January 2016.
Our restoration projects focus on creating habitats through land acquisition and blue carbon plantings as well as improving existing habitat. We are currently working towards the acquisition and restoration of the Field Sawmill site which when restored is planned to provide a public walk way and interpretative signage as well as habitat, carbon sequestration and flood and storm surge mitigation (learn more). As part of our Blue Carbon initiative we are planting eelgrass, salt marsh and kelp. These plants provide habitat, sequester carbon, and also help mitigate against storm surges and erosion (learn more). We have also completed installing a culvert connecting the Courtenay River to the Air Park Lagoon. This culvert brings fresh, oxygen rich water into the lagoon making the lagoon better habitat and proving a through fare for marine species including salmon (learn more).
Another reason the K’ómoks Estuary is special is the vast number 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. From their work we know that a large aboriginal trap fishery was 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) without depleting the fish resources or habitat. This is the type of abundance we wish to return to and this year we are celebrating Nancy and David’s work which is appearing in The Canadian Journal Of Archaeology (Volume 39 – Issue 2, December 2015). Nancy and David’s work will form the basis of a bid for National Historic Status which we will be assisting the Comox Valley National Historic Status Bid Committee in developing in the coming years.
The K’ómoks 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 many distinct political jurisdictions and we are working with each jurisdiction individually towards it’s protection and restoration. It is our hope that one day a central body with representatives or delegates from all stakeholders will manage and govern the K’ómoks Esturay in an integrated manner – a step towards this is the K’ómoks Estuary Management Plan which is currently being revised by the K’ómoks First Nations.