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Rare ecosystems

A common nighthawk sitting on a nest in the sand beside two eggs.
The rare coastal sand ecosystems need open spaces to function well. The plants and animals that live on dunes and spits depend on the ever-shifting sand to keep patches open, allowing for competition-free growth. The Common Nighthawk, a species at risk, nests in these open areas.
 

Crowded out

Scotch broom bushes with yellow flowers growing on the sand spit.
Scotch broom and European beach grass have invaded the sand spits on Sidney Island in the park reserve. They crowd out the native plants and animals and hold the sand too tightly with their roots. Often unknowingly, people and dogs trample rare plants and scare birds on the spit.
 

To the rescue

An aerial view of the north end of Sidney Spit on Sidney Island.
To protect the species at risk in the coastal sand ecosystem, Parks Canada launched a restoration project. Efforts began at the end of the long spit on Sidney Island, an area called the teardrop.

Many rare plants and animals depend on the teardrop: Common Nighthawk, Contorted-pod Evening-primrose, Edwards’ beach moth, Silky Beach Pea, Yellow Sand-verbena and American glehnia.
 

Weaving together Indigenous knowledge with western science

 

Image right: Sarah Jim, PḰEĆEN,ENEȻ  icon (p-kw-uh-chin-uh-nook/coastal sand ecosystems)

Through the Growing Together Conservation and Restoration (CoRe) project, Parks Canada collaborates with Coast Salish First Nations to restore the Coastal Sand ecosystems in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.

We are thankful to the Cowichan Nations and W̱SÁNEĆ Nations for sharing their knowledge of the land and water.

In 2021, W̱SÁNEĆ artist Sarah Jim designed PḰEĆEN,ENEȻ  icon (p-kw-uh-chin-uh-nook/coastal sand ecosystems) icon to represent the work of the Growing Together project.

Artist statement by Sarah Jim:

The collaborative work between the W̱SÁNEĆ and Parks Canada inspired this design. It represents the restoration and conservation of species at risk and culturally significant plants and animals within the PḰEĆEN,ENEȻ  icon (p-kw-uh-chin-uh-nook/coastal sand ecosystems). This is a specialized ecosystem that only exists within W̱SÁNEĆ territory. Naturally, it has shaped the culture and the creatures within this habitat. The Common Nighthawk and Edwards’ Beach Moth rely on this ecosystem because they have coevolved together. Yellow Sand-verbena, SȽE,QÁI (sluh-kw-ay-ee/Dune Grass), Silky Beach Pea, Contorted-pod Evening-primrose, and KEXMIN (kuxh-meen/Wild Celery) are species at risk that are culturally significant to the W̱SÁNEĆ. KEXMIN seeds have been spiritual and physical medicines for time immemorial. These plants and animals are surrounded by these seeds to give them strength.

The two hands are holding up the plants and animals to give thanks and honour their importance to the ÁLEṈ,ENEȻ (ay-lung-uh-nook, homelands, ecosystem). The hands are also a symbol of the human intervention of the conservation and restoration that is taking place and the growing relationship between the W̱SÁNEĆ and Parks Canada.

Each plant and animal is adorned with Coast Salish elements. This signifies their importance to the W̱SÁNEĆ and establishes a sense of place; these beings belong in their ancestral homelands. All aspects of the land have shaped W̱SÁNEĆ language, art, culture, and worldview. Not only are ecosystems being restored, W̱SÁNEĆ culture is being revitalized and relationships between the first people and settlers are beginning to grow.

Volunteer power

Three people using a plastic tarp to load invasive plants into a pile.
Park staff coordinated teams of volunteers from clubs, schools, universities and community groups. These hardworking people donated thousands of hours to control invasive plants and make space for native plants and animals. They removed all the mature Scotch broom from the teardrop site.
 

Tiny plant, big recovery!

Park biologist raises her arms in celebration near small yellow flowers growing in the sand.
An endangered plant, the contorted-pod evening-primrose, lives in only a handful of places in Canada. It needed extra help to recover on Sidney Spit, so Park staff planted nursery-grown seeds on the newly cleared areas. This tiny plant had a huge recovery. Over 30,000 new plants sprouted, a 980% increase in annual population counts relative to previous years.
 

Our commitment: to protect

Close-up of flowering yellow sand-verbena growing on the sand.
Our ongoing efforts to protect this rare ecosystem include installing signs, building fences, monitoring native species and removing invasive plants. At nearby Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, restoration projects are also underway to protect sand dune plants and animals. Learn more.

Find out more about volunteering for this project.