SeaChange in Tod Inlet

Marine conservation society working to improve Tod Inlet through restoration and education.

Executive Director of SeaChange Marine Conservation Society

It all began a quick minute’s walk after entering the Tod Inlet trail to the dam, a place where cutthroat trout were once being blocked trying to swim up past the dam. Executive Director of Sea-Change Marine Conservation Society, Nikki Wright walked down the trail to the Inlet, talking to the PNR about their plans for change and the work that’s been done so far.

When middle school students come during the environmental education programs the Society has running at Tod Inlet, Wright said they are introduced to the place — as many youth haven’t been there before. They talk about the fishway and they inform the students that their own small cameras can do a lot in terms of social change. Wright would then explain that a video was taken of cutthroat trout travelling up Tod Creek to the dam, trying to go past, but were being trapped.

“And so the video was a tool for change because now we have a fishway that’s very well functioning. So when the cutthroat do come through here, they have a segue to go up towards Prospect Lake.”

Education programs are just one one the many things SeaChange does. They do many outdoor programs — one about to start called EcoRowing — and environmental programs. For the last 16 years or so, the program has targeted middle and elementary school students. They include ethnobotanical tours, which Wright said is the meaning of plants within First Nations traditions and present practices and uses of local plants.

Middle school students can go canoeing and have a First Nations individual talk about practices around the Tod Inlet. They also have marine studies happening on a dock out in the park. Students look at water quality with scientific equipment, Wright explained. They look at plankton under microscopes and play with a watershed model.

“So it’s an all-day adventure for middle school students and elementary students,” said Wright.

On April 7, a cross-cultural program took place in partnership with the University of Victoria, called the Chinese Youth Leadership program.

“University students from many different areas of China come over to Victoria from anywhere from a week to three weeks and they experience all kinds of North American culture. And this is the only field trip that they experience, so we try to bridge cultures between First Nations settler culture here and the Chinese,” she said.

Most of these students, she said, are not environmentally-oriented so it proves to be a really new experience for them. In order for them to understand the lingo, they translate for them.

“It’s a wonderful experience.”

In terms of Tod Inlet as a whole, Wright feels as though there are three different eras. The first was the thousands of years of traditional settlement by First Nations, who used it as a wintering ground, for harvesting shellfish and the hunting for deer. The name is known as The Place of the Blue Grouse. The grouse or ‘bird’ would perch on lower limbs of the fir trees and they could easily harvest it, eating it like chicken. They call it SNIDCEL (sngeet kwith), which is the language of the Saanich peoples, meaning Place of the Blue Grouse.

The second era was when the blue grouse were chased away by the dynamite. During the cement factory days, limestone was discovered and to get it out of the earth they used dynamite, which unsettled wildlife and First Nations’ traditional practices. Building foundations, tools and cement debris can be found in the park, as reminders of the era.

“The limestone extraction went on till the early 1900s and then the cement factory still kept in operation to make things like clay pots and pipe until about the mid 1950s,” said Wright.

The third era is what Wright calls the era of restoration, which is where SeaChange comes in, having been involved since around 1998.

“We formed a partnership with B.C Parks,” she said. “B.C Parks turned this area into a provincial park in ’94 as part of the Commonwealth Legacy Games.”

Wright said the Tsartlip Nation do not feel enough consultation was done in that process, a treaty never signed for seeding the land.

“And so what I envision is some kind of opening up of not only rebuilding the health of the soils here, rebuilding the vegetation, rebuilding the ecosystem as a whole here, rebuilding relationships and rebuilding the traditional practices that were here in the first era …” Wright explained. “So the ecological and the cultural restoration that we hope to have happen is happening as we speak.”

A few minutes’ walk from the water, Wright stopped to discuss a large area that’s been cleared of blackberries. They are planting native plants, mulching it and rebuilding the soil.

“As we’re doing that, we’re more and more consulting with the Tsartlip Nation for consultations about what they see they would like to have happen in here,” she said.

The society’s current concern is the people who love the park. She said they want visitors to feel comfortable with the transition.

Before the blackberries, the area held a cement building. Instead of cleaning out all of the cement debris that came with destroying the buildings, they were buried, leaving shallow soils. Wright said the society doesn’t currently have the resources to clear out all the debris and reform the landscape, however they are doing their best to take care of the invasive plants. This is done by the help of community volunteers who come in to help with the clearing, along with planting native plants during the wet season.

Around a month ago when the blackberries were cleared off with machinery, it made the soil rough and loose, and when excavated, the soil was found to be off balance.

“You want to balance between the fungus and the bacteria and the soil. When you have that balance, you have vegetation that will grow very quickly and in a very healthy environment.”

When tested there was a high amount of bacteria and a low amount of fungus, so it’s now being tested again after what’s called compost tea is applied. Wright said they will then watch fungus start to come into the soil, naturally boosting the rate of progress of these small young native plants

Independent consultant Judith Cullington is helping out with the project. She said they are hoping to do a demonstration of beach enhancements and are currently waiting for more information to confirm the go-ahead at the foreshore area at Tod Inlet.

With sea level rise a concern, and its associated impacts on beaches around this area and elsewhere, Cullington said there is more erosion. This typically sees people building a concrete wall or putting up these large stones at the front of their property to protect it.

“What that does is … it tends to send the wave of energy around the sides, so you get more erosion at the edge of the rip rap,” she said.