My first video blog interview – in British Columbia – about a remarkable environmental come-back. New life comes to a polluted fjord, Howe Sound, BC. I report on the quick recovery of this beautiful but historically challenged area near Vancouver. I hope you enjoy it. First published in 11/06/2010 and updated 8/15/2015
My thanks to my friend Wilf Grolman from Brackendale, B.C. and Squamish Steamkeepers for the information below.
Below is additional information about the pollution cleanup and how neighboring Vancouver has been affected positively. Check out the most interesting video in the Feb 2015 update paragraph below to see how the Squamish project has affected False Creek in Vancouver.
Hundreds if not thousands of tons of herring spawned in the Squamish estuary, Howe Sound, in the 1960’s. This mass of herring in turn fed salmon, cod, birds, sea mammals and humans, who could easily scoop up a bucket of herring at will. Life thrived in Howe Sound in those days. This ended by the 1970’s with the industrial development of the Mamquam Blind Channel. It was assumed that the lack of herring meant that the herring had moved elsewhere to spawn.
The development of Squamish Terminals in 1972, at the head of Howe Sound, actually opened up new spawning areas for the herring. Rip rap borders attracted bladder wrack seaweed which allowed some of the herring to continue to spawn successfully. However, it turns out most of the herring found a nice quiet place to spawn under the East Dock on creosote pilings which, unfortunately and unknowingly, killed their eggs by the millions.
In 2006, the Squamish Streamkeepers were checking the net pens that Squamish Terminals had put in to aid salmon enhancement and stumbled onto the dead herring eggs on the creosote pilings under the dock. With funding from the Department of Fisheries & Oceans Canada (DFO) for materials and complete support of Squamish Terminals, the Streamkeepers began wrapping the pilings with various materials to see what might protect the numerous but delicate eggs from creosote damage.
Four years later (2010), hundreds of millions of eggs have hatched out successfully and juvenile herring schools have been observed leaving Howe Sound for the open sea. Herring have again shown a preference to spawn around and under the Squamish Terminals docks. Findings from this year have also proven that the herring prefer the wrapped pilings (pictured below) and seaweed over everything else.
The wrapped pilings are intertidal and after the herring eggs laid on these pilings hatch out, the ups and downs of the tides and slapping of the waves soon clean the herring glue and egg cases off. The pilings get re-spawned two to three times from late January and into early April, with the majority of spawn in February and March.
UPDATE (FEB 2015): Here is a great video from Ian Wood, a Master of Journalism candidate / Journalist, on the herring recovery project – False Creek Herring Rescue – in Vancouver, a direct spinoff from the Squamish success.
(Here is a great 2014 CBC news report with video of dolphin pods sighted in False Creek with a mention of the herring rescue piling wrapping project.)
UPDATE (JUN 2015): In 2015, herring spawned under the East and West docks 3 to 4 times from January through to the spring. A conservative estimate is that two and a half billion eggs were laid under the docks and with the protection from the weather and predators; they had a very high hatch out rate. The spawn was found on the wrapped creosote pilings and float lines under the East Dock and on the wrapped concrete pilings under the West dock that were wrapped in 2010. The Squamish Streamkeepers plan to wrap another 40 or more concrete pilings and install several hundred feet of float lines under the West Dock during the low summer tides.
Contributed by Dr. Jonn Matsen, Co-Chair and Herring Coordinator, Squamish Streamkeepers
Britannia Creek pollution
Water in Britannia Creek is extremely clear and transparent suggesting a pristine environment, yet the clear water is actually an indication that no living creatures can survive in it. The water cannot be consumed by humans either.
Even though mining has stopped, runoff and rainwater that flow through the mine’s abandoned tunnels combine with oxygen and the high sulfide http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sulfide content of the waste rock to create a condition called acid rock drainage http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acid_rock_drainage (ARD). ARD is caused by a chemical reaction, which results in highly acidic runoff that contains large concentrations of dissolved metals such as copper http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copper, cadmium http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cadmium, iron http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron, and zinc http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zinc. The polluted water was being deposited directly into Howe Sound http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howe_Sound by means of Jane Creek and Britannia Creek and as much as 450 kilograms of copper was entering Howe Sound daily.
A two-kilometre strip of coastal waters along Britannia Beach was seriously polluted, affecting 4.5 million juvenile chum salmon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salmon from the Squamish Estuary (half the entire salmon run). A Fisheries and Oceans Canada http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisheries_and_Oceans_Canada report revealed that Chinook Salmon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinook_Salmon held in cages off Britannia Creek died in less than 48 hours because of the toxic metals in the water, whereas fish held off Porteau Cove had a 100 per cent survival rate.
The area around Britannia Beach had become extremely polluted and had a reputation as one of the most notoriously contaminated, historic mining operations in North America.
Scientists from The University of British Columbia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_University_of_British_Columbia designed the Millennium Plug, a huge device designed to prevent more pollutant from going into Britannia Creek. However, polluted waters are now diverted to discharge through a pipeline just 50 m offshore into Howe Sound contaminating it. Therefore, field monitoring done in 2003, using intertidal algae and mussels as ecological indicators, showed that the recovery of coastal biological communities was actually minimal . University of British Columbia scientists are developing a state-of-the-art heating system using the warm polluted metallic water seeping from the mines.
More about the pollution (from Wikipedia)
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