Threat from rising sea levels leads to vital ‘intervention’ in Cowichan Estuary

Threat from rising sea levels leads to vital 'intervention' in Cowichan Estuary
CHEK

At low tide, the massive Cowichan Estuary is a feast for wildlife — a natural wonder rich with nutrition and habitat, where the ocean’s salt water and Cowichan and Koksilah rivers meet.

“A lot of life with the animals. Every day I come down, sometimes twice a day,” Cowichan resident Steve Alphonse told CHEK News Monday while watching wildlife.

But the vital estuary, ranked as a Class 1 for protection due to its international importance to hundreds of species of wildlife, is now facing rising sea levels that threaten to destroy the watershed.

“If we don’t do this intervention, we’re looking at losing 50 per cent of the marsh habitat in the Cowichan by 2050 and almost 100 per cent by 2100,” said Thomas Reid, manager of the West Coast Conservation Land Management Program.

“So we’re basically at the point with our monitoring that we need to work with our partners.”

So a joint effort between Cowichan Tribes and federal and provincial groups is preparing a defence to keep the habitat healthy for generations to come.

“So birds will be stopping in here on their migrations, obviously salmon production. So it’s an internationally significant wetland,” said Reid.

Reid heads the management program that’s leading the joint project.

According to Reid, beginning in August, the Cowichan Estuary Restoration Project will remove hundreds of thousands of tonnes of dirt that are currently dykes along the estuary, in addition to building new channels for water to flow, to increase the vital estuary’s resilience against rising sea-levels.

“To allow the tide to come and go back, allow the natural processes of tidal inundation to happen,” said Redid.

It comes to benefit wildlife like migratory birds and species at risk, including wild Pacific Salmon that rely on the estuary for survival.

“We do know how much they rely on the estuary, and without the estuary habitats, there may not be any salmon left,” said Reid.

The restoration project in Cowichan’s Estuary is slated to cost $2 million, and according to officials, similar projects are now being considered for the Nanaimo and Comox estuaries as well.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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