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Renewal and restorations in historic Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary, a preliminary list.

Jacques Sirois, Friends of VHMBS,

Partner, Greater Victoria NatureHood,

January 15, 2021

Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary has found itself in the midst of an inspiring scene of restorations and renewal in recent decades. Significant projects have unfolded in Victoria Harbour, the Selkirk Water, the Gorge Waterway, the Trial Island and other sites. These projects were delivered by various levels of government, organizations and the private sector to cleanup old industrial sites, fix aging infrastructure, fight water pollution and restore valuable natural areas. There never was a wilful plan to restore the bird sanctuary; the sanctuary simply found itself where restoration was unfolding. In 2020, we reached a new milestone with the completion of a controversial, large, complex and expensive project: a regional Wastewater Treatment Plant in Victoria Outer Harbour.

As we enter the U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), here is a short list of only eight recent projects. It is meant to highlight the intensity of the restoration effort and form the base of a complete list for the entire sanctuary. There is no such list at present.

One: The new Wastewater Treatment Plant (2020)

After decades of controversy, four years of construction and kilometres of new pipes in all directions, the regional sewage plant is now built. Dumping sewage at sea began in 1894 and stopped in December 2020, as mandated by the federal and provincial governments. Sewage outfalls at Clover Point and Macaulay Point are now redirected to a plant at McLoughlin Point. Cost: $775M, with a federal contribution of $211M; a massive project among the most expensive ever in Greater Victoria. Diluted, untreated wastewater used to spread over much of Victoria Harbour MBS with each flooding tide and to nearby Esquimalt Lagoon MBS with each ebbing tide.

Photo: McLoughlin Point, Victoria Outer Harbour, Nov. 5, 2020. Jacques Sirois.

Two: The Rock Bay clean-up (2004-2015)

The clean-up of a former coal gasification plant (1862-1952) in Victoria Upper Harbour figures among the most significant remediation project of a toxic site in Canada ( ~$130M, BC Hydro and Transport Canada). A huge project that saw the removal of 250,000 tonnes of contaminated soil and 88,000 tonnes of marine sediments. I am not familiar with future plans for this site.

Photos: top, no date, Quantum Murray; below, Dec. 26, 2020, Jacques Sirois.

Three: The Laurel Point clean-up (2017-2019)

This remediation project (~$20 M, Transport Canada and City of Victoria) saw the removal of 3,000 tonnes of contaminated marine sediments and 75,000 tonnes of soil. Site of a former paint company (1906 - early 1970s). The City of Victoria is now developing plans for the new Peter Pollen Waterfront Park around Laurel Point. The site has perfect views on Victoria Inner and Middle Harbour. Preliminary drawings are available.

Photos: left, Dec. 19, 2018; right, Dec. 9, 2017, Jacques Sirois.

Four: Protection of Portage Inlet and the Colquitz River with various measures at the new Mackenzie Interchange (2020)

The prolonged construction (2016-2020) of this large interchange ($96M, part of the Trans-Canada H.W.) next to the salmon-bearing Colquitz estuary and Portage Inlet raised serious concerns when heavy rains repeatedly released large amounts of sediments.

Restoration experts were finally brought in by the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. As a result,100s of stumps were installed to create a “rough-and-lose” surface and slow down runoff from a new, massive, ~400-metre berm (top photo). Also, two settling ponds were created (1 shown, centre) and three dendritic channels (1 shown, bottom) were carved out of the banks of the estuary to increase and improve tidal habitat. Vegetation was planted or transplanted and will be maintained for five years.

Photos: Nov. 21, 2020, Jacques Sirois.

Five: Building reefs in West Bay, Victoria Harbour (2020)

Salish Sea Industrial (Ralmax Group) built five reefs in a shallow subtidal zone to improve habitat. This habitat compensation project is one of the conditions of approval for the expansion of the Ralmax Point Hope Shipyard in Victoria Upper Harbour.

Photo: Aug. 20, 2020, Jacques Sirois.

Six: Abandoned vessel removed from Cadboro Bay (2020)

One of several derelict vessels removed by Salish Sea Industrial (Ralmax Group) from the sanctuary (Cadboro Bay, Oak Bay, Selkirk Water) and regional waters in recent years. More details in the caption below the photo recently published by Victoria’s Times Colonist. This continues to be a serious problem.

Photo: Dec. 8, 2020, Times Colonist, Darren Stone.

Seven: Restoration of the Trial Islands (2001-2020)

Tonnes of invasive plants were removed from the islands’ rare maritime meadows, the largest and the best such meadows in Greater Victoria, in the last 20 years. Partly funded by the Habitat Stewardship Programme of Environment Canada. Team leader: Matt Fairbarns.

An annual, population control project of invasive, resident Canada Geese (addling of eggs in 60+ goose nests) also takes place on the islands. The geese degrade the habitat of several endangered plants.

Photos: Jacques Sirois.

Left: dwarf Garry Oaks now clear of English Ivy, next to endangered Dense-flowered Lupine (not visible), Oct 27, 2017.

Right: removing abundant seedlings of Scotch Broom next to endangered Golden Paintbrush (not visible), Aug. 4, 2020.

Eight: Kitty Islet Shoreline Restoration Project (2019-2020)

A radical transformation of a small site once totally invaded by English Ivy, a super abundant invasive plant in Greater Victoria. A magnificent grove of old and gnarled Scoulers’ Willows was revealed at one of the sanctuary’s best viewpoints. A volunteer effort in 43 sessions by the Community Association of Oak Bay.

Photos: Before, right, Sept. 8, 2019, Rick Marshall. After, left, Oct. 16, 2020, Jacques Sirois.

Final remarks:

A comprehensive list of restoration projects associated with historic (1923) Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary will become available in the future. The oldest Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Pacific Canada encompasses 30 km and 1840 hectares of coastal waters, shores and islands in the Capital Region of British Columbia. Originally established to control hunting, it is now valued for harbouring birds, rare species of plants and animals, species-at-risk, biodiversity and nature in the city.

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