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Vic West pocket beach restoration underway for fish habitat, canoes

Phase one of the project finished this week

By Michael John Lo
September 24, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Vic West pocket beach restoration underway for fish habitat, canoes

Phase one of the project finished this week

By Michael John Lo
Sep 24, 2022
Songhees Walkway Pocket Beach has been undergoing phase one of its restoration. Photo submitted by Kyle Armstrong
Songhees Walkway Pocket Beach has been undergoing phase one of its restoration. Photo submitted by Kyle Armstrong
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Vic West pocket beach restoration underway for fish habitat, canoes

Phase one of the project finished this week

By Michael John Lo
September 24, 2022
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Vic West pocket beach restoration underway for fish habitat, canoes
Songhees Walkway Pocket Beach has been undergoing phase one of its restoration. Photo submitted by Kyle Armstrong

A pocket beach on Vic West’s southern shoreline may soon see canoes landing on it once again. Culturally significant to the lək̓ʷəŋən peoples, Songhees Walkway Pocket Beach—which was once part of Mud Bay—has a long history of trade, settlement, and occupation both before and after colonization began on these lands. 

The beach lies where the Songhees Reserve was from 1844 to 1911, before the Nation was pressured to relocate further east. The formerly neglected site is now being tended to by the Peninsula Streams and Shorelines society who are aiming to bring back ecological and cultural life into the area with this new project.

With rising sea levels and unstable weather systems, many engineers are fortifying the shores to stave off erosion. But this project, one of three trial sites on the east coast of Vancouver Island, showcases another alternative.

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Kyle Armstrong, restoration coordinator for the Peninsula Streams and Shorelines, said hard engineering methods are a good way to protect shorelines from “high-energy systems” like the increasingly powerful storms. But it’s a short-term approach that neglects ecological and cultural aspects, he added. Natural processes of erosion are lost, and with them, fish spawning sites. 

“We’ve probably [taken] out about 10 tons of concrete as well as asphalt, which is quite toxic,” Armstrong said. “They used it as a dumping site at one point.”

That, along with other debris such as bricks and metal rebar, have been removed from the site and replaced with a mix of fish-friendly small rock pebbles, pea gravel, and sand, reintroducing vital nutrient and sedimentary processes to the beach.

A photograph from 1909 shows that the area was a stopping point for canoes. The project underwent consultations with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, with the Songhees Nation indicating that they plan to use the place once more as a landing site for canoes for marine cultural tours. 

The beach lies outside of the protected Inner Harbour, which means it has around 80 kilometres of open water between this shoreline and the next for waves to build energy. “We consulted with a coastal engineer to get some weight modelling done,” Armstrong said, which enabled the group to select the right materials to rehabilitate the site.

Restoring a beach like this is about finding a balance between making the site biologically sustainable and having it not wash away entirely in the next severe weather event.

The final touches of phase one were completed Friday. The group says the beach will provide spawning habitat for surf smelt and Pacific sand lance, which will then in turn help support salmon populations in the area.

The project is supported by a consortium of environmental organizations such as the Pacific Salmon Foundation and the Stewardship Centre for BC. The City of Victoria is also involved as a partner.

Phase two, which starts in the spring, will include the creation of a sandy backshore area which will replenish the beach during events like king tides. 

Further shoreline stabilization, which will include enhancing the beach’s riparian zone with native vegetation, is also in the plans. Armstrong says that they will be monitoring how the newly regraded beach reacts to the rougher winter seas. In the future, there will be public access to the site, which is just steps away from the Songhees walkway.

It will be an improvement, for multiple uses, over what has been there for generations. 

The Songhees Walkway Pocket Beach could soon be host to all of these activities and more. “It’s definitely a project for people and nature.”

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Michael John Lo
Editorial Intern

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