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.

Comox Valley Watersheds Course

Elder College is offering this course (CVEC 6315) coordinated by Betty Donaldson on Thursdays from Oct 4 – Nov 22 from 11:30 – 1:00.

It is not necessary to be a scientist to appreciate local watersheds that shape the Comox Valley: the Courtenay River (K’omoks) Estuary, the Tsolum and Puntledge Rivers, and 3 urban creeks.  Volunteers who help sustain these shorelines and waters will share their enthusiasm for human and natural history, and identify the unique biodiversity features of each area.  Weather permitting we will have one on-site class to view some spawning salmon.

Registration begins on Monday, September 17, 2012 at 9:00 am precisely. You can register by one of the following methods:
• Register at
• In person at the North Island College Registration Office.

A Special Day on the water in the Comox Valley

Hello From the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society, Estuary Working Group,

A special day for Families, Visitors,and Local Residents :

‘Keeping it Living 2012’ is the third year of the campaign raising awareness for the protection & restoration of the Courtenay River (K’omoks) Estuary. Coordinated by Project Watershed Society and the Estuary Working Group, the campaign includes the ‘Blue Forest: Art for the Estuary’ art auction & competition, and ‘Experience the Estuary’ outdoor events.

On Saturday July 28 we invite the community and all of Vancouver Island to ‘Experience the Estuary’ on a finale day of participation & celebration.  Visit the  Keeping it Living Website for more details

A flotilla of human-powered boats are invited to parade from the Courtenay Marina to the K’omoks Band shores in a free, non-competitive event. All will be welcomed ashore by the K’omoks people and the on-shore community, to view the Blue Forest Art silent auction at the Band Hall, dine on salmon, and enjoy the Kumugwe dancers.
Autographed Canada One paddle.  Photo by P Jones.

A  special treat for paddlers:  One of the original paddles used by the Canadian voyageur canoe team during the Diamond Jubilee Flotilla in London on the Thames Estuary is coming to the Comox Valley.  It is decorated and signed by all 10 paddlers. And someone will make a successful bid for ownership on July 28 when the Courtenay River Estuary Flotilla is held.

Come Experience the Estuary and join us in Keeping it Living!   The Band Hall is on Comox Ave.. between Courtenay and Comox along the estuary shore.
The materials you need to view and bring with you for registration to participate in the Flotilla are attached to this post.

To read the Guidelines go to the link below:

Guidelines to paddlers

To fill out the registration and waiver go to the link below:

Flotilla registration and waiver

To learn a bit about our estuary view this 4 min video


An Estuary Walk by Jocie Ingram

Courtenay Estuary Meadow 

Paintbrush, common camas, and pretty shootingstar fill this part of the wetland meadow near the mouth of the Courtenay River. Photo by D. Ingram.

A strong wind had kicked up, and it was spitting rain as I stepped out into the open flats of estuary, through a lush meadow of knee-deep sedges and swathes of yellow, blue and red wildflowers. I walked slowly—I could hardly see my feet beneath the thick vegetation, and there were hidden channels, dips and muddy spots that I could easy stumble into. I didn’t want to venture too far, just far enough to get a feel for this place.

Finding an old log to sit on, I spent some time there, taking in a view of Goose Spit and studying the plants around me: a spike of arrow-grass by my right foot, and over to the left a tall white bog-orchid with a sweet scent. Further over, there was a mass of paintbrush and camas in bloom, tangled with yellow buttercups.


Paintbrush (Castilleja sp.) – a number of different shades of colour and leaf shapes were noticeable in the plants in the meadow.  Photo by D. Ingram.


The colours of the paintbrush were surprisingly variable—yellow-cream, orange and red, some pale and some intense. The camas is one of the most striking of our wildflowers with twisted buds of an unreal-looking turquoise colour that open into bright purple-blue flowers. En masse, they put on quite a show. Back in May, these same flats were coloured pink from the blooms of shooting stars. There is more to come too—soon there will be purple spring-bank clover, and tall pink spikes of Henderson’s checker mallow, a hollyhock-like plant.

I have to confess that for years I never took much notice of the estuary. Even now, life gets busy and I haven’t been out here or looked at these flowers for quite a while. Like most of us, I drive from Courtenay to Comox along Comox Road and make passing-glances at the estuary without really engaging with it.

It was a different perspective, to sit out here. The sounds of the human world, the traffic and airplanes were constant, but I began to tune them out. I found myself listening to the piercing call of a yellow warbler, and the sound of the wind riffling through the sedges. This small pocket of wildness, really just a remnant, had an element of timelessness. The sights and sounds of today, the camas, paintbrush and buttercup and the warbler’s song were likely much the same a thousand years ago. In a world of constant, bewildering change, this simple fact is reassuring.

Common camas (Camassia quamash)  

The bright yellow stamens of Common camas (Camassia quamash) were brilliant against the rich blue of the tepals. Photo by D. Ingram.


Here, I had a direct link to the past, and I could begin to imagine what the estuary was like when it was wild, and when ancient peoples lived here. Further out on the mudflats, there are thousands of wooden stakes, some over a thousand years old that were used to capture then-plentiful salmon. The plants around me were a source of food and medicine. Camas bulbs were dug up, steamed and eaten every spring. Perhaps I romanticize, but I often wonder what it was like to live so intimately with the land, and to have a deeper connection to/knowledge of the landscape and all of its creatures. Today, briefly out of a modern context, I tried to forge my own connections—or at least acquaint myself with this ancient piece of the estuary that has endured for a millennium or more.

The Courtenay River estuary is highly regarded; it is one of eight class-one estuaries in the province. Though it has been severely altered by humans since the 1860s, the estuary is still a rich place for wildlife, supporting 145 species of birds, 218 species of plants, 29 species of fish and countless intertidal creatures.

Protecting and restoring our estuary is a huge task, and there is much work to be done. Many organizations work tirelessly on behalf of the estuary and the rivers and streams that feed into it. Salmon enhancement, restoring original habitat, invasive plant removal, garbage cleanup, public education, monitoring birds, and land acquisition are just some of the activities and goals of these mostly volunteer-run societies.

The population of the Comox Valley has doubled in the last 20 years, putting increasing pressure on our lands. Sensitive habitats and agriculture fields continue to be usurped for development. Though parts of the estuary are protected, there is still much that is unprotected and threatened. We have to work hard as a community, to look after this beautiful, special place that is a key part of our cultural and natural heritage.

The Keeping it Living ( campaign, launched by Project Watershed, has greatly increased awareness of the Courtenay River estuary. Visit for upcoming public events in the Experience the Estuary series: next up is a beach seine on Saturday June 16 at 9:30 at the Comox Road viewing stand.

There are several places with fine views of the estuary. Take a walk around the Courtenay Airpark, or stop at the viewing stand along Comox Road. Kayaking and canoeing are also great ways to explore the estuary up-close.

Jocie Ingram can be reached at

Chinook salmon, coho and marmots to benefit from funding

Comox Valley Echo

Published: Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program (FWCP) has announced funding towards one fish and one wildlife project within the Campbell River Watershed and funding towards four fish projects within the Puntledge River Watershed.

Projects include a marmot recovery program and a program that studies coho smolt/fry migration in the upper watershed of the Puntledge River.

FWCP funds are provided through BC Hydro and managed in a partnership with the Province of British Columbia and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to conserve and enhance fish, wildlife and their supporting habitats affected by the creation of BC Hydro owned and operated generation facilities in the Coastal, Columbia and Peace regions of British Columbia.

FWCP has committed $71,390 to projects within the Campbell River Watershed and $292,531 for projects within the Puntledge River Watershed. All research and project work will take place in 2012/2013.

“We are funding two important restoration projects that target the fish habitat on the Salmon River and the continued expansion of the marmot population,” says FWCP Coastal Board Chair, Brian Assu.

“The Comox Valley Project Watershed Society is leading the fish restoration and research projects on the Puntledge River Watershed in collaboration with other local groups and agencies. For both watersheds, these diverse and important projects reinforce the continued positive partnerships between the FWCP, local First Nations and community groups.”

Applications are reviewed annually in the Coastal region by both technical and board-level committees that include representation from all program partners, First Nations and the public. Projects are chosen based on technical merit, cost vs. benefit, level of partnership, linkages to watershed-specific priorities and overall benefit to the FWCP’s mandate and vision.

The FWCP in the Coastal region has funded approximately $4.4 million in projects on the Campbell River System and $2.3 million in projects on the Puntledge River system since 1999.

For more information and to find out how your project can apply for next year’s funding visit

Projects funded 2012-2013 Campbell River Watershed

The Salmon River – Big Tree SideChannel Performance Improvements project ($4,840), led by the BC Conservation Foundation, will evaluate the Side channel that was constructed in 2008 and determine if there are any opportunities to improve fish access.

In its sixth year, the Vancouver Island Marmot Buttle Lake Supplement Project ($66,550) will continue to expand the marmot population and support the Province of B.C. and its Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Program. Continuing on the success of the past five years, the project will again release up to 30-40 marmots at approximately 6 sites in the vicinity of Buttle Lake to augment the current population.

Puntledge River Watershed

The Assessment of Homing Behaviour of Puntledge Summer Chinook Hatchery Returns project ($57,778) continues in its second year. The project will determine if Chinook that are imprinted in Comox Lake will have a higher return rate compared to adults that were reared at the Puntledge Hatchery with no imprinting. Now in the construction phase, the Puntledge River Hatchery Summer Chinook Rearing Consolidation project ($151,184) will install additional tanks to the chilled water acclimation system that will allow for summer Chinook to be held at the Hatchery.

Chinook and coho smolt/fry will also be assessed for a third year ($78,620) as the project continues to analyze the migration of the fish in the upper watershed. And the fourth fish project ($4,950) will prepare a habitat improvement plan and budget for restoration of an area in the Courtenay River Estuary.

Sample to portray rainforest/ Artists focusing on fragile coast

Esther Sample believes she is the only one from the Comox Valley among 50 artists visiting the Central Coast to portray Canada’s fragile raincoast, which they feel is threatened by the Northern Gateway pipeline.

“I am flying from Vancouver to Bella Bella on June 23 and returning the 28th,” says Sample, whose image Hunger Strikes was chosen last year to appear on the federal fishing licence decal for conservation of wild Pacific salmon.

“I am in a group of 15,” Sample continues. “From Bella Bella, we will board the Achiever and take the six-hour boat trip to the village of Klemtu, where we will stay at the Spirit Bear Lodge.

“While we are there, the Achiever, a popular tour boat, will be taking us on day trips and possibly overnights to various inlets and islands in the area. There will be crews from CBC and Global and the camera crew from our group working on a short documentary.”

From these trips, the artists will all donate one piece to the cause and it will be put into a travelling art show, which will circulate around coastal B.C. and hopefully across Canada, Sample says.

There will also be a coffee table book published titled Canada’s Raincoast at Risk: Art for an Oil‐Free Coast.

Each artist will have two pages. The book and art show should be ready in November.

The objective is for participating artists to draw attention to the potential ecological effects of an Enbridge pipeline and oil tanker traffic.

Fifty artists — some of Canada’s most celebrated, and many who are First Nations — will take up paintbrushes and carving tools to portray Canada’s fragile raincoast.

A network of coastal lodges, tour boat operators and water taxis have donated travel and accommodation so the artists can explore some of the most spectacular and remote locations of the B.C. coast.

Over a two‐week period in June, they will depict the rich biodiversity and integrated, ecological elements of the forest, intertidal, and ocean zones, and the people, flora and fauna that have lived there for thousands of years, organizers said in a news release.

Besides the book, original artworks donated by the artists will become part of a travelling art show to raise public awareness of what is at stake on this spectacular coast and why it needs to be kept oil‐free, they add.

The art‐for‐conservation idea is a recurring brainchild for Tofino artist Mark Hobson, who helped co-ordinate a similar venture in 1989. That project, in association with the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, produced the book Carmanah: Artistic Visions of an Ancient Rainforest, which drew international attention to the Carmanah Valley on Vancouver Island, and led to permanent protection of the area through its designation as a B.C. provincial park.

The current project is being co-ordinated and supported by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, an organization using scientific research and public education to further protection of coastal ecosystems and wildlife in British Columbia for 15 years.

Among the artists joining the project are Robert Bateman, Robert Davidson, Carol Evans, Roy Henry Vickers, Craig Benson, Michael Svob and Alison Watt.