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 (

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

Comox Valley Project Watershed Society Elects New Board Officers

On June 11th the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society Board of Directors met and elections were held for Board positions. The 2013 Board members with their specific roles on the Project Watershed team are:

  • Paul Horgen – re-elected Chairman of the Board.  Paul has been associated with the Board for 5 years and along with Board Member Dan Bowen makes up the Research –Technical Working Group.  Horgen is a retired Biology Professor from the University of Toronto.  His research was in Microbial genetics and environmental microbiology. He has published over 140 scientific articles and has co-authored 3 books.   He moved to the Comox Valley in 2005, and has served as science coordinator for Elder College. He is also a member of the Vancouver Island CNIB Board of Directors and a member of the CNIB National Research Board.  Horgen also serves on the Area B Lazo North Area Planning Commission.  Horgen is coordinating the team for the Blue Carbon Project in the Estuary.

  • Bill Heidrick – elected Vice-Chair and also coordinates the society’s outreach efforts.  Bill retired after 25 years working in the Forest Industry.  He moved on to serve 8 years in local government, including 4 years as a director of the Columbia-Shuswap Regional District. He was a volunteer warden for the Zeballos River Estuary for many years and instrumental in forming the Zeballos Fish and Wildlife Association.  He participated in CoastalWaterbird Survey (Zeballos River Estuary) for 7 years and continues to be involved in bird counts here in the Valley.  Bill’s outreach efforts involve the establishment of a new stream keeper group and the Shoreline cleanup.  Bill also serves on the Estuary Working Group and represents Project Watershed on the Comox Valley Conservation Strategy Steering Committee.

  • Don Castleden – Chair of the Society’s largest committee, the Estuary Working Group.  Don has been on the Board of Project Watershed since 2000 and is past Chair of the Board.  Don became involved in environmental education in the mid 90’s when he was asked to develop a national First Nations training program in Environmental Impact Assessment after he had previously developed an award winning program for First Nation managers in Community, Economic and Organization.  He  proposed the ‘Heart of the Watershed’ Symposium on the Estuary in 2008, which proved to be a catalyst that has engaged individuals, organizations and local political leaders in a community wide effort to protect and restore this outstanding feature of the Comox Valley.

  • Dan Bowen – born and raised in the Comox Valley, Dan has a passion for protecting the Valley’s flora and fauna from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the mountains.  Dan worked for the Ministry of Transportation as an engineering assistant, overseeing numerous road construction projects on Vancouver Island.  In 2010, Dan started applying his expertise to the aquaculture industry, specifically sustainable hatchery and tenure development and operations.  In 2011, Dan became a director on the board of Project Watershed.  He, along with Paul Horgen, coordinates the Research and Technical Activities of the Society, with Bowen coordinating and managing the Puntledge projects and both coordinating the Estuary and Blue Carbon projects.  Dan also serves on the Estuary Working Group.

  • Brian Storey – elected Treasurer and is the newest member of the Board of Directors.  Brian is a Chartered Accountant.  He was the Business Manager of The Edmonton Journal for 25 years before he became a self-employed professional accountant in 1996.  From 1996 to 2009, he provided business advice and assistance to a number of enterprises – public, private and not-for-profit.  Since coming to the Comox Valley, Brian has been, and still is, involved with the Rotary Club of Courtenay, and the Comox Valley Elder College.

Assisting the Board are key staff:

    • Caila Holbrook – Estuary Coordinator and Mapping Coordinator. Caila has been with Project Watershed since November 2008. She has a Masters in International Nature Conservation and a BSc in Environmental Science. She has been involved in environmental research, restoration and protection projects all over the world.

    • Kathryn Clouston – Administration and Outreach Coordinator.  Kathryn has been volunteering with stream keeping groups since her retirement from the Air Force in 2007.  While doing this she also spent a few years at North Island College improving her knowledge of biological systems with an Associate of Science in Biology degree.

Caila Holbrook and Kathryn Claustin in recent eelgrass planting in the estuary.

Caila Holbrook and Kathryn Claustin in recent eelgrass planting in the estuary.

The society welcomes new individuals with interest in environmental stewardship and public education and outreach.  Interested parties can contact Paul Horgen at or visit Project Watershed’s website at for more information.

Estuary Dinner Launches Elevate the Arts

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Project Watershed is presenting “Dine Under the Sea” to raise funds and awareness about the K’omoks Estuary Tuesday 6-9pm at Zocalo Cafe. Showcasing Art, Music and Food this dinner will also launch the week of events associated with Elevate the Arts. A unique seafood focused menu will be featured including Spot Prawn Skewers, Wild Salmon and Chocolate Mouse (a vegetarian option will also be available) created by Zocalo Chef Peter Bradley. The Zocalo Cafe will be transformed to give an under sea feel with over 35 pieces of estuary inspired art submitted to the Keeping It Living Campaign’s silent auction and competition. Bids and votes for artworks can be made at Zocalo from the 3rd to the 8th or online at There will be three winning artworks – People’s Choice, Artist’s Choice and Keeping It Living’s Choice. There is a wide variety of artwork from Pottery to Stained Glass to Jewelry available at a range of prices ($15 – $3,000) and all reserved bids are below retail value.

Popular local singer, Jilli Martini, and the Valley’s favorite Hawaiian Musician, Anela Kahiamoe, will team up to play at this event. Both musicians are looking forward to collaborating their Jillian Garthrighttalents for this evening of music. Anela will be on guitar and backing vocals, accompanying Jill as they perform a variety of favourite cover songs. Listeners can expect to hear some soft rock, blues, pop and easy listening music. Jilli Martini (aka Jillian Gathright) became well-known a few years back, as the host of the acoustic jam at the ‘late’ Pier Pub in Comox. More recently she has been known as the host of the former Showcase Events at the Avalanche Bar last year, and also the leader of the Jilli Martini Band. Jill is also often found performing intimate acoustic gigs in various venues throughout the Valley. She is recognized for her ability to perform a broad range of styles and genres, from sultry standards to rock ballads and everything in between. Her versatility as a vocalist, and the natural way she engages with her audiences has made her an appreciated part of the local music scene.

Dinner is $25 (Zocalo’s regular menu will also be available), donations for the Estuary will be accepted at the door and both Project Watershed and Zocalo’s are proud to accept community way dollars. Project Watershed is asking for reservations to be made at for the dinner component of the evening as seating is limited.

Project Watershed will be presenting other activities during Elevate the Arts on Saturday the 8th including a participatory art installation “Estuary Mural”, professional family photos in Simms Park and a book reading Penelope Piper’s Great Adventure. Visit or for more details.

Birding for All Ages

Bird walk view standAs part of the Keeping It Living Campaign Project Watershed held a bird walk Saturday the 4th of May. The walk was led by Art Martell, a well-known birder in the Comox Valley. He took the group to a hidden estuary habitat teaming with birdlife right in the middle of the day, a stone’s throw away from the hustle and bustle of the Dyke road!


Participants of all ages enjoyed the one and a half hour outing. Highlights included Great Blue Herons, Green-winged Teal, Red-winged blackbirds, Killdeer, Long-billed Dowitchers and Sandpipers. Many of the participants were surprised at the wealth of birdlife and quality of habitat they were shown.

While our Estuary has been degraded over the years, pockets of healthy habitat still exist. The slough and wild habitat the group visited is in an area established and protected by Ducks Unlimited and The Nature Trust of British Columbia.  Supporting and expanding these areas through restoration, land acquisition and other protection measures will help return the abundance that was the namesake of the Comox Valley.


Project Watershed thanks Art Martell for sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm for Estuary habitats. Walks like these and the other work that has been going on in the Estuary highlights how various environmental groups are working together to educate about, protect and restore a natural system.

The next event in the Keeping It Living series is entitled Mudflats Mischief. It will take place at 1pm on Saturday May 25that the Courtenay Riverway Walk. You can find out more about this and sign up online at

The Keeping It Living Campaign also features a silent art auction and competition – to view the art, vote or bid visit

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.

Unlocking Coastal BC’s Blue Carbon Opportunities

The following article was posted in The British Columbia Newsroom and The VIU News.

Issued by the BC Ministry of Environment, April 9, 2013

COURTENAY – The B.C. government is partnering with Vancouver Island University and the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society to better understand how coastal communities can combine action on climate change and improvements to coastal ecosystems, and at the same time potentially benefit economically from these activities.

The Province, Vancouver Island University and Comox Valley Project Watershed Society have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and identified opportunities – starting in the Comox Valley – for these blue carbon projects in B.C.

To contribute to the success of the agreement, the Ministry of Environment is providing $30,000 to commission a first phase of scientific research planning. Blue carbon is the carbon stored in the marine environment, shellfish, plants and sediment. Healthy estuaries remove and store carbon dioxide – possibly even more effectively than plants on land.

B.C. has 27,200 kilometres of coastline and 422 estuaries to work with. Blue carbon projects have climate change reduction and adaptation benefits, as well as economic and environmental opportunities for communities and First Nations along the B.C. coastline.

The parties have agreed to:

  • Identify additional eligible project areas for blue carbon project activities along the B.C. coast.
  • Evaluate the reasonable cost per tonne to undertake various blue carbon projects, including key variables in forecasting costs (i.e., accessible vs. inaccessible coastline).
  • Undertake projects involving a wide range of shoreline and estuary protection and habitat restoration activities on private and public lands that can be designed, developed, quantified and verified to meet domestic and international quality standards.
  • Undertake the necessary research and analysis to support the creation and sale of greenhouse gas offsets from blue carbon projects that will be recognized as quality offsets in international markets.

Through these activities, Vancouver Island University will increase its ability to respond to coastal community needs and meet the educational goals of its students. The Province will better understand the opportunity to combine community action on dealing with the impacts of a changing climate, climate change reduction and ecological improvement in coastal ecosystems.

Comox Valley Project Watershed Society will build local expertise and capacity, and restore valuable intertidal areas to the benefit of B.C. coastal and First Nations communities.


Environment Minister Terry Lake – “By leveraging blue carbon, we have the opportunity to reduce the risk of sea level rise and ocean acidification, and repair centuries of habitat destruction. Blue carbon also supports community-based efforts to create climate change solutions locally and will make possible cultural, economic and environmental benefits.”

MLA (Comox Valley) and Education Minister Don McRae – “Blue carbon is the point where ecological restoration, greenhouse gas reduction and climate change adaptation converge. With our unrivaled knowledge in ecosystem and climate change science, strong policies to drive investment in sequestration and a world-leading approach to dealing with the impacts of a changing climate, B.C. possesses the tools and expertise the world is looking for. The end result will hopefully be the creation of sustainable jobs in coastal areas of B.C. such as the Comox Valley.”

Dr. Ralph Nilson, president and vice-chancellor, Vancouver Island University – “Preservation and restoration of coastal marine ecosystems is essential to support the sustainability and quality of life in the coastal communities that Vancouver Island University is proud to serve. We are delighted to be a part of the research and restoration efforts that will not only have a positive local impact but potential global application in mitigating climate change.”

Paul Horgen, chair, Comox Valley Project Watershed Society – “Eelgrass meadows are disappearing from coastal estuaries as a result of pollution, habitat destruction and burial. Their loss is a loss of an important natural carbon sink. Restoration efforts have economic and climate adaptation benefits, and provide key wildlife habitat – a hat trick for the environment. We look forward to working with the Province and VIU to make the Comox Valley blue carbon project a local effort with international ramifications.”

(Left to right): Project Watershed’s Dr. Paul Horgen, Minister of Environment Hon. Terry Lake and VIU President Dr. Ralph Nilson signed a three way Memorandum of Understanding between the University, Project Watershed and the BC Government (via, Ministry of Environment and the Climate Action Secretariat to work together to investigate “Blue Carbon” and its role of estuaries in sequestering carbon.

(Left to right): Project Watershed’s Dr. Paul Horgen, Minister of Environment Hon. Terry Lake and VIU President Dr. Ralph Nilson signed a three way Memorandum of Understanding between the University, Project Watershed and the BC Government (via, Ministry of Environment and the Climate Action Secretariat to work together to investigate “Blue Carbon” and its role of estuaries in sequestering carbon.

Learn More:

  1. British Columbia Newsroom – Media Relations, Ministry of Environment, 250 953-3834
  2. Vancouver Island University – Don Tillapaugh, Director Centre for Shellfish Research at

2nd Annual Carol Walk along the Estuary

The tradition of people going around a neighbourhood singing Christmas carols is a very ancient one. However, in the Comox Valley, it’s quite a new tradition. It is a great way to experience the Estuary during the Winter season.


On Tuesday, December 5, 4:00 ­- 6:00 pm, join singers as they walk from 27th Street along the Riverway to the Westerly Hotel. The Hotel will provide a wassail cup to all carollers. Those who wish to stay for dinner will receive a special rate but reserve seats or a table in advance (250 338 2749).


Carollers will gather at the Mansfield Drive parking space near Cliffe Ave at 27 St., Courtenay. They will be led by John van Egmond,; Jim Boase on trumpet. Those who don’t want to walk 10 blocks, could join the minstrels at the Air Park or at the Old House. This year, Rick Husband and Dale Graham, John and Joanne van Egmond and Nicole Fifi will join us for an indoor program of singing at the Westerly.


Dress for the weather and for the Season! Also, consider car pooling so that one vehicle is at each end of the walk. Some shuttle service will be available but you might have to wait. Everyone should have a light and bring some carol sheets. It is not necessary to be a great singer but it is necessary that everyone has a great time, so dress for the weather! (If it is particularly inclement, we will meet in the Westerly lobby at 4 pm)


Following the Riverway, the route will go past several strata complexes, the Whistle Stop Pub and Holiday Inn, past the Information Centre and Air Park, Old House Hotel and under the 17th street bridge to the Westerly Hotel.


This is a free public event for people of all ages who wish to begin the Holiday Season by celebrating traditionally – but with Comox Valley style and ambience. Last year we were joined by 96 people!  In our era, money often is offered for good causes. This event is not a fundraiser per se but Salvation Army Kettle volunteers will be on the carol walk.


Wassail is derived from an old English word meaning “be thou hale”. Sometimes people would go into orchards and sing to the apple trees so they would bear good harvests. Often carollers were invited into homes for a cup of good cheer. Organizers are Project Watershed volunteers. For further information, contact that office: 250-703-2871.

Eelgrass Restoration

Project Watershed would like to thank our volunteers from Superstore, North Island College and around the Valley for their assistance with this important task and especially for doing it at 6:30 in the morning!

Our intrepid group of volunteers showed up at 6:30 in the morning and enthusiastically went to work carefully harvesting eelgrass from the healthy, natural bed on the south side of the Royston wrecks according to the instructions of the project leader, Cynthia Durance. Once they had collected the stems for transplanting, they then sat down to attach the washers to the plants with twist ties. This is an important step as the currents and tidal action mean that the plants cannot attach without some assistance. That assistance is provided by the washers, as well as by divers carefully inserting the washers into the sediment to ensure that the plant stays attached. The volunteers then bundled the eelgrass to make it easier for the divers to plant despite the current in that area.

Our volunteer divers, Cynthia Durance and Joyce McMenamon, then spent several hours carefully transplanting the eelgrass on the north side of the Royston wrecks. Our efforts were appreciated as when checked on a few days later the plants were full of little crabs enthusiastically feeding. Project Watershed would also like to thank Mountain Equipment Coop and Creekside Commons for providing the funding for this important restoration which provides a multitude of benefits by improving habitat for crabs, shellfish and other organisms, including salmon and herring, as well as sequestering carbon better than most plants on land.