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Unique fish found only on Vancouver Island under threat, conservationists say

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Tucked away on a small parcel of land on Vancouver Island is a creature you will only find in the Comox Valley.

It's called the Morrison Creek Lamprey, and it's a unique form of the Western Brook Lamprey.

Lampreys are a small type of parasitic fish that look like eels.

"Lamprey themselves are ancient in the evolutionary tree. They predate sharks," said Janet Gemmell, president of the Morrison Creek Streamkeepers.

"They’re jawless fishes, so it's even before any fish got jaws. They’re scaleless, they have cartilage, so they’re very primitive," she said.

SEEKING LAND PURCHASE

Volunteers with the Morrison Creek Streamkeepers and with the Comox Valley Land Trust are trying to preserve a forested area around the Morrison Creek headwaters.

"In 2019 we did our first land acquisition in the headwaters, which was about 50 acres," said David Stapley, director of the Comox Valley Land Trust.

"This piece here is 750 acres, or 280 hectares, and basically we're purchasing almost the rest of the headwaters," he said.

The groups have their sights set on land that is currently held by private forest companies so that the area doesn’t become logged or turned into industrial land.

"It’s really important for us to protect this area because of the threats of logging or industrial development, because it’s such a rich site for biodiversity," said Stapley.

"It’s not just the aquatic species here but all your major animals like the cougars and bears and martens," he said.

Through government and private funding, the two groups are trying to raise $4.75 million by Dec. 31. They've already raised millions and are down to the final $375,000 needed to meet their goal.

"About 40 per cent of the area is wetland, and of course these maturing second-growth forests of cedar and fir and alder and cottonwood, they’re all sequestering carbon and storing it in the soil," said Stapley.

"It’s really important that we maintain our natural areas so that nature can help absorb some of the CO2 in the atmosphere," he said.

Volunteers say they're dedicated to preserving the area for creatures that travel through the region both on land and in the water.

"This particular lamprey has adapted to this ecosystem and so if there are changes to this ecosystem then we might lose that amazing creature that’s a very niche creature – that’s like a boutique creature," said Gemmell. 

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