Science in Support of Conservation
The Raincoast Education Society (RES) is actively involved in scientific research and monitoring in Clayoquot and Barkley Sound. Our work in this field may sometimes go ‘under the radar’, but it’s an important part of our mission. Our core staff includes several biologists who often work in collaboration with partners from other local, provincial, or national agencies and organizations. The RES enjoys the freedom of a broad mandate and the ability to focus on locally relevant issues that affect the communities we serve. From water sampling to shorebird tracking, every project the RES takes on seeks to collect data that can provide a solid, scientifically-based reference to inform local efforts to manage, enhance, protect and preserve the unique natural environment we live in and the species we share it with.
Pacific salmon have been relatively well studied due to their cultural, ecological and economical importance, but there are still many more questions than answers. One major gap is the lack of a clear understanding of what adult salmon eat – an important factor in at-sea survival! Seasonal, annual, and regional variations in salmon diet are likely extremely important factors affecting individual health and reproductive success.
While the decline of wild salmon stocks in BC is well recognized, the causes of these declines remain poorly understood. It’s likely that a combination of factors are responsible, and we want to learn more about what kinds of impacts variations and shifts in diet might be having on salmon.
Since 2019, The RES has been working in collaboration with the University of Victoria’s Fisheries Ecology and Marine conservation lab to collect diet samples from adult chinook and coho salmon in Barkley and Clayoquot Sound. While this program initially recruited participants fishing in the Salish Sea (eastern and southern Vancouver Island) and has expanded up the central coast and even to Haida Gwaii, the west coast of Vancouver Island has been very poorly sampled. The RES is working with local and visiting sport and commercial fishers to learn more about adult salmon diet by collecting the intact stomachs of landed fish. Anyone can participate! It’s super easy, lets you feel good about putting 100% of your fish to good use, and helps fill in some critical knowledge gaps that will help us learn more about how to protect the salmon in our communities.
The RES is currently collaborating with the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and other partners to conduct a multi-year study of shorebird distribution and movement within the Clayoquot Biosphere Reserve – a critical stopover site used by 100,000+ shorebirds per year. Our project aims to understand when and how shorebirds use different habitats within the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in both spring and fall, and ultimately inform management decisions aimed at minimizing the effects of human disturbance on migrating birds.
The ultimate goal of this project is to generate data with which to inform management decisions about how to best protect critical habitat and vulnerable species in the Clayoquot Sound area, while also maximizing the educational opportunities responsible wildlife viewing can offer residents and visitors in the region.
The Tofino Mudflats Wildlife Management Area was established in 1997 in recognition of its importance as habitat for a wide variety of birdlife. Although the importance of the TMWMA as overwintering habitat for waterfowl is well recognized, survey efforts to date have been haphazard, inconsistent in methodology, and few and far between. Several local stakeholders which sit on the TMWMA Advisory Committee have raised concerns that recent development and changes in human use of the TMWMA and adjacent areas may be negatively affecting overwintering bird populations.
The RES is working in collaboration with The Nature Trust of BC to carry out a multi-year census of overwintering waterfowl in the Tofino Mudflats Wildlife Management Area. The goal of this project is to conduct a series of bimonthly on-the-water surveys during the winter (Nov-Apr) to determine the current abundance, diversity and distribution of overwintering waterfowl and other birds within the TMWMA and develop a baseline dataset with which to assess long-term trends. This project was begun in 2018 and will continue until at least 2020.
Ongoing research in the Clayoquot Sound region has highlighted the importance of specific areas of mudflat and beach habitat to migrating shorebirds. Some of the most abundant species in Tofino (e.g., Western Sandpiper, Dunlin) are suspected to be in slow but steady decline at the continental level, but much of the data used to generate population estimates comes from a single site at Roberts Bank in Delta. A better understanding of numbers and trends in Tofino could likely put current populations estimates in a clearer context.
The RES is planning to collaborate with ECCC to conduct standardized surveys of migrating shorebirds in Tofino during both spring and fall migration. The data collected will be used to assess abundance and diversity of birds which can be correlated with ongoing efforts in Delta, and inform management decisions regarding sustainable development of this important wildlife area. This project is slated to begin in fall 2019 and continue until at least fall 2020.
In March 2011, the magnitude 9.0 Tohoku earthquake and resulting tsunami led to meltdowns in three of six nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Some of the radionuclides released to the atmosphere and directly into the Pacific Ocean could potentially pose environmental and public health risks on Canada’s west coast.
The RES is working in partnership Dr. Jay Cullen at the University of Victoria, and Dr. Ken Buesseler at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to collect monthly seawater samples from Clayoquot Sound as part of the Fukushima InFORM Network. All samples are packaged and shipped directly to Dr. Cullen’s lab at the University of Victoria for Cs analysis. Clayoquot Sound will serve as one of six sites on the BC Coast collecting monthly sea water samples for Cs analysis. This data contributes to ongoing research on the transport of radionuclides in the marine environment.
Living in an area of pristine wilderness is a rare privilege that also comes with some responsibilities. Those living in the communities of Barkley and Clayoquot Sound are constantly looking to live in a healthy balance with our environment; making the most of what we have while ensuring we minimize our impact.
Unbiased evidence-based science provides us with a means to make informed and confident decisions about the issues we care about.