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Trial Islands and Fort Rodd Hill designed as Key Biodiversity Areas

Fort Rodd Hill, Trial Islands, and the Tofino Mudflats are critical areas for rare and threatened animals and ecosystems

By Jolene Rudisuela
October 25, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Trial Islands and Fort Rodd Hill designed as Key Biodiversity Areas

Fort Rodd Hill, Trial Islands, and the Tofino Mudflats are critical areas for rare and threatened animals and ecosystems

Fort Rodd Hill, Trial Islands, and the Tofino Mudflats have all been designated as Key Biodiversity Areas. Photos: Google Earth
Fort Rodd Hill, Trial Islands, and the Tofino Mudflats have all been designated as Key Biodiversity Areas. Photos: Google Earth
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Trial Islands and Fort Rodd Hill designed as Key Biodiversity Areas

Fort Rodd Hill, Trial Islands, and the Tofino Mudflats are critical areas for rare and threatened animals and ecosystems

By Jolene Rudisuela
October 25, 2022
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Trial Islands and Fort Rodd Hill designed as Key Biodiversity Areas
Fort Rodd Hill, Trial Islands, and the Tofino Mudflats have all been designated as Key Biodiversity Areas. Photos: Google Earth

Vancouver Island is home to three regions marked as Key Biodiversity Areas—an international designation highlighting areas that are critical to the survival of the country’s rare and threatened species and ecosystems.

KBA Canada Coalition, which is a partnership between the Canadian federal and provincial governments and multiple environmental organizations, has identified environmentally critical sites across the country that need to be protected. While the Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) designation doesn’t give a site legal protection, the program is striving to identify and document these sites so that they are effectively managed and safeguarded. 

Canada is aiming to protect 30% of its lands and oceans by 2030; according to KBA Canada, while some of the areas are already partially or fully protected, the designation is being used to inform protected-area planning. 

BC as a whole has seven KBAs. On Vancouver Island, Trial Islands Ecological Reserve, Fort Rodd Hill, and Tofino's mudflats are each designated KBAs because of the unique and threatened species that rely on each area. Out of the three, only Trial Islands is completely protected.

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Trial Islands

The group of five Islands off the coast of Oak Bay are home to a diverse array of rare and endangered plant species, including the Garry oak, Bear’s-foot Sanicle, and Dense-flowered Lupine. The Island hosts the majority of the globally threatened Victoria’s Owl-clover, and Macoun’s Meadowfoam, which is only found on the coast in BC.

The Islands are also within the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary, and partially covered by the Trail Islands Ecological Reserve. The entire Trial Islands area is protected. 

Fort Rodd Hill

The National Historic Site that was once used as an artillery fortress, is also home of the rare Coastal Douglas-fir and Garry oak ecosystems. According to KBA Canada, about 12% of Canada’s remaining Deltoid Balsamroot is found in the area. 

Only 5% of this KBA is currently protected. 

Tofino Mudflats

The largest KBA on the Island is located near Tofino, encompassing the shorelines and mudflats of Browning Passage and Chesterman Beach on the other side of the peninsula. The mudflats have a diverse array of invertebrates and plant life, and are critical habitat for a large number of migratory birds. Approximately 600,000 western sandpipers stop at the site in the spring, according to KBA Canada—the second-most used spot by the species in BC. 

Recreational use of Chesterman Beach and Long Beach, as well as residential development along the mudflat shorelines could be a concern for the migrating western sandpipers. The District of Tofino has implemented a development permit area along the mudflats that KBA Canada is hopeful will minimize the impact of development, but currently only 48% of the KBA is protected.

Protected areas

Municipal, provincial, and federal governments have a variety of ways to protect land from human destruction. In BC, 15.4% of BC’s land base and 3.2% of its marine areas are protected. The amount of protected areas has more than doubled since the early 1990s.

Map of protected lands and water in BC as of 2015. Source: Province of BC.

While the province has been protecting areas of land for decades, creating Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is a much newer designation.

The Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents, 250km southwest of Vancouver Island, became Canada’s first MPA in 2003 which covers 97 square kilometres of sea floor. The area around the hydrothermal vents, which is far below where light can reach, hosts up to a half million animals, Jimmy Thomson reported for the Narwhal

A decade and a half since this area became the first MPA, a much bigger MPA has been proposed surrounding the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents. 

The proposed MPA, around an area called the Offshore Pacific Area of Interest, would protect up 139,700 square kilometres—just a couple thousand kilometres shy of the size of all land-based protected areas in BC, combined. It would protect the vents, the flourishing marine life, and a large part of the surrounding ocean from human activities like deepsea mining and fishing. 

The proposal, which has been in the works since 2017, has still not been officially designated an MPA. 

When protected doesn’t fully mean protected

Even when areas are legally protected, there can still be complications in ensuring those areas are truly safe.

Earlier this year, a lawsuit was brought forward against two multibillion-dollar oil and gas companies and the federal government over drilling permits within the bounds of Scott Islands. The Islands, which are protected as part of a marine National Wildlife Area, but the plaintiffs in the lawsuit say decades-old drilling permits haven’t yet expired and should be cancelled. 

As Capital Daily reported in August, the plaintiffs’ lawyer Ian Miron says there’s precedent on the East Coast of Canada that shows marine areas aren’t immune from oil and gas exploration. 

The Scott Islands are also a critical place for migratory birds, such as tufted puffins and Cassin’s Auklets. At-risk species like marbled murrelets, short-tailed albatross, and sooty shearwater use the islands. 

Miron told Capital Daily that any drilling near these islands would be detrimental to marine species and the migratory birds.

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