The largest estuary restoration project on Vancouver Island is set to begin in the Cowichan Valley.
Up to $3 million in funding from both senior levels of government and conservation organizations has been committed to restoring more than 70 hectares of marshlands along the Cowichan River estuary.
Tom Reid, the west coast conservation land manager for the Nature Trust of BC, led a tour of the area of the estuary where the work will be conducted on June 5.
He said the project will see the removal of more than two kilometres of dikes at Dinsdale Farm and Koksilah Marsh, the creation of intertidal channels and salt-marsh habitat, the restoration of marine riparian and flood-fringe forests and the reconnection of areas that have been historically cut off from tidal influence.
Reid said the project ultimately plans to enhance the estuary’s resilience against rising sea levels.
“We’re super excited to start work on this project because the data we collected while monitoring the estuary during the last 10 years shows that something must be done to mitigate against rising sea levels in the Cowichan River estuary,” he said.
“If we don’t do something now, we’ll likely lose 50 per cent of the marsh area by 2050 and 100 per cent by 2100. It’s a massive task but the money is now in place to do it.”
Estuaries are diverse ecosystems that thrive in a narrow band of elevation and are critical areas where the nutrients from the marine and terrestrial environments mix.
The nutrient-rich environment plays a crucial role in the life cycles of fish, crabs, shellfish and migratory and breeding birds.
The Nature Trust of BC in partnership with Cowichan Tribes, Ducks Unlimited Canada, the Ministry of Water Land and Resource Stewardship, the Ministry of Forests, DFO, Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation are supporting the project.
Reid said that since 2018, many of the partners have collaborated in implementing an in-depth monitoring program to assess the resilience of the Cowichan/Koksilah estuary to sea-level rise, and have worked with consultants on extensive modelling and assessments of the impacts of the historic dike and river training within the estuary.
“Based on the results of this work, a decision was made by all the partners to implement the Cowichan Estuary Restoration Project to focus on overall ecosystem health and the resilience of the estuary,” he said.
“The work will be done over two years and the first phase, which will begin this summer, involves the removal of the old agricultural dike in Koksilah Marsh that was built in the 1940s.”
Linda Higgins, DFO’s director for the south coast area, said the importance of estuaries to the health of oceans can’t be overstated.
She said DFO is thrilled to partner with local organizations and communities in the restoration project.
“This project aligns with our commitment to protect and restore Canada’s aquatic ecosystems and we are proud to contribute to the preservation of this vital habitat for s diverse range of marine species,” Higgins said.
“Through collaborative efforts, we believe this project will not only restore the estuary’s ecological balance, but also provide long-lasting benefits to the communities that rely on it.”