What is it that can be found just around that next outcropping — or under that odd-shaped rock over there?
For casual beachcombers and curious kids, those are just some of the questions that, while most often unsaid, drive the desire to explore local beaches.
With summer finally here, it’s time to get outside and discover what some of the beaches around Sidney have to offer. It’s not just fun in the sun with shades, sunscreen and picnics — there’s also creatures of the sea to be found and ecosystems that can change significantly in only a matter of meters.
Sue Staniforth, a biologist and environmental educator, joined Kerry Finley, a retired ecologist who focussed on arctic marine mammals and who now counts the Bufflehead duck among his passions, for a tour of three local beaches. They offered a quick guide to what can be found in this area — and within one of the oldest marine wildlife protection areas on the Pacific — the SHOAL Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
Accessed at the east end of Ardwell Avenue in Sidney, Roberts Bay is a delta formed by the outfall from Mermaid Creek and other runoff sites. This gives the bay its muddy appearance but as Staniforth and Finley point out, the mud also gives the bay a rich ecosystem.
“You can see the mud flats here and the eelgrass beds,” Finley said. “It’s a wealth of habitat, but most people see it as mud.”
Shedding shoes and socks, one can walk out at low tide and witness microscopic creatures called Green Taniads fill up the footprints made in shallow mud and sea lettuce. Buffleheads feast upon these small animals when they overwinter in Sidney.
Roberts Bay offers a feast for the eyes — from the herons and gulls that are regular visitors, to the Heart Cockle, Littleneck clams, sand worms and more.
Across the Peninsula only a short distance away, Finley pointed out Patricia Bay is a similar mud bay but with different species altogether, such as sand dollars. Roberts Bay is also continually monitored because of its position as an outfall from a mostly urban area. Industrial runoff has been a threat to the area but Finley said things have changed as more people learned about their impact.
“It has improved over the years. The town and local industry have come a long way, but local citizens
need to be more aware of their impact on the bay.”
Around a rocky outcropping from Roberts Bay, Surfside Beach can be found at the end of Surfside Place — or by leaving the north end of the Lochside waterfront walkway at low tide and walking around a corner.
While only mere meters away from Roberts Bay, Surfside Beach looks completely different. It’s a rocky beach with some sand areas and cobblestones. It’s more exposed to the ocean waves, which gives it its unique look —and views east across the water.
Here, too, are a variety of creatures, from Harlequin ducks and Heermann’s gulls, to crabs and a fish called a Sand lance. The rocks create tidal pools, which Staniforth said are great places to find wildlife. In a short period of time, she found Mossy Chitons, Hermit crabs, predatory snails and more.
“It’s one of best places to turn rocks over,” she said, adding it’s important to gently replace the rocks in the way they were found, as they provide shelter for sea critters waiting for the tide to come back in.
Alongside the waterfront walkway in Sidney, Lochside Beach is a cobbled stretch of coastline.
Lochside Beach is also exposed to the elements. Staniforth said the logs along the shore act as giant rollers that crush and destroy when the storms come.
This makes for a consistent beach, if not a litle flat and on the surface, somewhat plain.
However, Staniforth said, dig a little deeper and you can find a wealth of sea life. It take a little more effort, but turing over rocks works here as well.
“Pretty well every rock here will have some cool stuff underneath it,” she said. “Sometimes you have to look a little harder to find interesting things.”
On this outing, Staniforth managed to sweep away some seaweed to find a Northern Clingfish next to a larger rock — an unexpected find.