Just metres from a busy road that cuts through Mount Douglas Park, Douglas Creek winds through the forest.
“That’s where the dead fish were coming from. We started noticing them in a pool as they floated down. And we picked them up in this pool here,” Camosun College instructor Mike Kory said while describing what happened on May 24.
“We noticed a very strong chlorine smell, almost like a chlorine bleach.”
Sitting on the bank of the creek, the students and Kory saw suds coming out of the storm drain just metres away.
“As we came closer, it got very, very strong. Almost eye-watering. And one of the students noticed dead fish floating down,” Kory said.
The dead fish turned out to be chum salmon fry, many gasping for breath. The class sprung into action, hoping to save as many fry as possible.
“We got a bucket and just picked up as many fish as we could. And took them down to a lower stream. Hopefully, some would survive,” Kory said.
The Friends of Mount Douglas Park Society spent more than six years restoring the salmon spawning grounds of Douglas Park, according to vice-president Ed Wiebe.
“It’s really concerning and disappointing after all the work that was put in to bring the salmon to the creek. To rebuild, restore the creek to a more natural state over the past five to ten years,” Wiebe said.
Key to those efforts is restocking the creek with salmon. On May 11, volunteers and students released tens of thousands of chum salmon fry into Douglas Creek. They spend up to several weeks in the creek before making their way down the 900 metres to the ocean. The same salmon fry killed by the toxic spill.
“If you spill oil from your car, or if you dispose of something that is awkward, you don’t want to have to deal with, you put it down the storm drain or on the street, then it ends up here in this creek. Whatever it is,” Wiebe said.
The Ministry of Environment is investigating, and the District of Saanich is monitoring the creek for any changes. But those who invest in the creek say they just want to protect its future.
“It’s a vision that we have to restore these little streams, which historically were natural salmon-bearing streams, to bring them back to something like what they were. It’s not easy,” Wiebe said.