The natural underwater salmon nurseries off the shores of Oak Bay are relatively healthy according to a report to council.
The district contracted SeaChange Marine Conservation Society to scour the waters off of Oak Bay to inventory Zostera marina. During a recent committee meeting, Leanna Boyer presented the report summarizing eelgrass mapping done in 2014 and 2015 in Oak Bay. She also outlined the importance of eelgrass from a nursery for juvenile salmon and other fish to habitat for “all sorts of organisms.”
“It also provides a stabilizing function … and prevents shoreline erosion,” she said.
Eelgrass is also known to be 90 times more efficient than forests in removing carbon from the environment. It’s used as an indicator of water quality around the world. The report says Oak Bay supports a healthy population of eelgrass meadows with 78 per cent continuous meadows and 22 per cent patchy habitat. In some areas the plant grows more than nine metres below the low tide line. The depth of eelgrass growth may indicate good water quality.
There are “no glaring red flags” noted Coun. Kevin Murdoch, crediting the start of the project to the former Environmental Advisory Committee in Oak Bay.
Coun. Michelle Kirby, former liaison to the now defunct EAC was excited to see the final results and lack of “doom and gloom.”
“It goes a long way to helping us understand where we’re at and give us a baseline,” she said. “This is a great step forward … so when we do approach other levels of government we have that baseline.”
Eelgrass inventory in hand, Oak Bay has a solid reference point for future consideration of foreshore uses.
“There are some indicators we aren’t doing terribly,” agreed Mayor Nils Jensen. “There are some reasons to feel positive.”
Jensen noted it could be particularly useful as the district wades into the “jurisdictional chaos” of derelict, abandoned and live-aboard vessels.
The report noted that eelgrass habitat surrounding the Oak Bay marina is most impacted where moorings scour the bottom and prevent growth. Recovery is possible if the cause of the damage is eliminated, but natural recovery is slow and would be assisted by replanting.
The report recommends educational outreach addresses issues such as boat anchoring and mooring in eelgrass beds and scouring by boat anchors. The reduction or elimination of detergents, chemicals and microplastics entering the marine waters through storm water outlets would benefit all marine life.
At the least, conversation and divesting the information offers public education, Kirby said. The eelgrass inventory is also set to be part of council’s strategic priorities session and forwarded to the federal and provincial environment ministries.
“I hope to see this exercise pursued further. We have a lot more eelgrass in the Oak Bay islands,” said resident Jacques Sirois, retired wildlife biologist.
“There are 60 vessels anchored outside of the marina and yes they are creating damage. … It’s time to be bold about this.”