Viewpoint: Estuary at a crossroads

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By Anne Gunn and Frants Attorp

Fulford estuary is a magical and treasured element of Salt Spring’s diverse and varied ecology, culture and history. It encompasses public and private land, which can be a strength if we focus on working together in partnerships to restore and rebuild.

Prior to the arrival of European settlers, the Coast Salish people enjoyed and harvested the richness of the estuary. A British Admiralty map from about 1907 reveals a large salt marsh at the head of Fulford Harbour. The former Fulford Inn was actually built on a site that used to be a lagoon.

The lagoon and marsh were natural features resilient to storm surges and changes in sea level, and would have been home to rich and diverse communities of marine life. Estuaries are known for their abundance of shrimp and tiny creatures, the essential food for salmon smolt preparing for their migration to the Pacific. Salmon, in turn, support otters, seals, eagles, ospreys, orcas and, yes, even us.

By the early 1900s, changes were underway. The Salt Spring Historical Society has a photo dating back to the turn of the 19th century showing a long wooden bridge spanning the mouth of Fulford Creek and the adjoining salt marsh. The bridge carried the road linking Fulford Harbour to the island’s interior.

For the past century, a series of hotels or inns have overlooked the estuary, serving tourists and locals alike. During this time, there were many changes: a road replaced the bridge, the lagoon was drained and the saltwater marsh contracted. Only a tiny patch of red-listed dune wildrye and beach pea remains. One salmon-bearing stream, although still classified as a riparian area, has been channelled into a ditch.

Going forward to the present day, we face a climate emergency and a pressing need for climate adaptability measures. Climate adaptability includes restoring features that are globally recognized as defences against storm surges, sea-level rise and biodiversity loss. In Fulford Harbour, we could progress toward climate adaptability by working collaboratively to restore the lagoon and part of the saltwater marsh.

Trustees could take a leadership role and foster a private-public partnership using existing societies, associations and land owners. Restoration and sustainable development would be a conspicuous feature to greet visitors to Salt Spring and show what can be achieved in terms of climate adaptability.

South-end residents have repeatedly voiced support for a restaurant as a community meeting place, and there is a growing groundswell to tackle our climate emergency. So why not look into restoring the shoreline and salmon-bearing creeks along with the lagoon and marsh while relocating the proposed motel and buildings to a smaller footprint on higher, flood-proof ground?

Private land and public concerns do not have to be a source of tension if we collaborate. Salt Spring Island has done it before!

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