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Vancouver Island's largest estuary restoration project to begin

(Cowichan Estuary Nature Sanctuary/Facebook) (Cowichan Estuary Nature Sanctuary/Facebook)

The restorations plan for the Cowichan River Estuary, which aims to address the impacts of climate change, was made public Tuesday.

The changing climate is expected to significantly impact estuary ecosystems in many ways, including rising sea levels, ocean acidification and temperature.

The plans to restore and revitalize 70 hectares of the river’s estuarine marshland is the largest planned restoration project of a estuary on Vancouver Island and comes with an estimated price tag of up to $3 million.

"Estuaries are the heart of our coastal landscape and are among the most productive ecosystems on earth," said Thomas Reid, West Coast conservation land management program manager with the Nature Trust of British Columbia (NTBC).

"Although they only make up 2.3 percent of B.C.’s coastline, they support more than 80 percent of our wildlife, birds and fish," he said.

"Sadly, the climate crisis and human activities are threatening their vital processes, putting habitat and surrounding communities at risk. This project is an essential step towards restoration of the Cowichan Estuary to conserve biodiversity and protect local communities, now and in the future."

The Nature Trust of British Columbia is not alone in protecting the estuary.

"The Quw'utsun Mustimuhw (Cowichan People) have long been stewards of the lands and waters," said Larry George (Smaalthun), director of the lands and self governance department for Cowichan Tribes.

"We have witnessed the changes in our estuary over time, which have had a dramatic impact on our resources," he said.

"Cowichan Tribes aims to contribute to the management of our traditional territory through habitat restoration and monitoring of this important ecosystem. We look forward to seeing this important work continue, and to keep our territory thriving for future generations."


NTBC says it has already spent $1 million on design, modelling and monitoring of the estuary which has shown that rising water levels are outpacing sediment deposits in the estuary, which will cause the habitat to drown out.

According to current emissions scenarios released by the group, relative sea level rise in the Cowichan estuary is projected to be 0.28 metres by 2050 and 0.76 metres by 2100.

Reid represents one of the many groups involved in the project, including the NTBC, Cowichan Tribes, Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC), the B.C. government, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Environment and Climate Change Canada, and the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation.

Much of the estuary is protected, acquired from 1985 to 1990, as part of the Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Plan.

The NTBC has assessed the 442 coastal estuaries in the province and has rated the Cowichan River as a class one habitat, the same as the Skeena and Fraser rivers, based on their estuaries' biological significance.

The Cowichan River Estuary also plays an important role for birds on their international migratory routes, not to mention the key role the estuaries play in salmon production.

Estuaries are also considered important for their ability to sequester carbon.

Work is expected to begin in August and will take two years to complete with continued monitoring to see if expected outcomes are achieved.

The work includes undoing much of the alteration done to the estuary since the 1800s, which includes the diking of marshland for agriculture, and use by the logging industry for log storage and shipping.

Preparations to remove the Dinsdale Farm dike are part of the initial work this summer, which will also include the construction of distributary channels and the preparation of planting a flood fringe forest along Cowichan Bay Road. The following year the dike will be removed.

Part of the plan is to work with Cowichan Valley Regional District to maintain and enhance popular walking trails in the estuary.

Funding for the project comes from the BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund (BC SRIF), a contribution program funded jointly by the DFO and the Province of B.C., and Cowichan Tribes through the Aquatic Habitat Restoration Fund (AHRF). Top Stories


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