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Grant will help Comox Valley group to combat climate change

A $230,000 grant has been awarded to the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society and the Squamish River Watershed Society to:

• Complete an estuarine habitat restoration project and estimate resulting carbon sequestration;

• Provide incentive to restore shorelines to make them more resilient to storm surges and climate change;

• Foster greater community involvement and understanding of the environmental and economic benefits of eelgrass and salt marsh restoration.

Eelgrass and salt marsh habitats are recognized for their ability to sequester carbon in marine sediments, taking it out of the atmosphere.

In the past century, almost 70 per cent of global eelgrass and salt marsh habitats have been lost due to anthropogenic disturbances, resulting in the loss of an important carbon sink.

"We are very pleased that the leaders of the three-country (Canada USA and Mexico) Commission for Economic Co-operation recognize the value of estuaries by funding this grant," reacted Paul Horgen, chair of the board of Project Watershed in the Comox Valley. "I only hope that our local  politicians  will recognize this  fact and make their views known before the (municipal) elections in November."

Horgen said the following communities will directly benefit from the Project Watershed Society's work: the Town of Comox, City of Courtenay, K’ómoks First Nation and the Comox Valley Regional District.

"Because we have links with the province of B.C.’s Climate Action Secretariat and, as suggested by the April 2013 Canadian Geographic article on the K’ómoks estuary (habitat restoration), there are over 200 estuaries in the province of B.C. that have been damaged by industries along their shores," Horgen said. "It is our hope and the hope of the Climate Action Secretariat that our protocol could be extended to these other estuaries."

Eelgrass beds have and are continuing to disappear around the world as a result of pollution, habitat destruction, and burial, Horgen added.

"The disappearance of eelgrass and salt marsh shoreline is a loss of an important natural carbon sink, resulting in increased coastal erosion and fisheries decline.

"Eelgrass and salt marsh restoration have economic benefits, climate adaptation benefits and provide key wildlife habitat for finfish, shellfish and other organisms.

"Our proposal deals with understanding and precisely quantifying carbon storage in estuaries as a result of measurements and restoration of eelgrass meadows and salt marsh shoreline areas with a goal toward accessing additional funding to carry out future restoration," Horgen summarized.

The tasks and objectives of this project which are being encouraged and supported by the provincial Ministry of the Environment relate to the establishment of a pilot project to develop and verify a low-cost and low-energy demanding quantification system for blue carbon offsets, as well as to verify the effects of community-based eelgrass and salt marsh restoration efforts.

Added benefits to our restoration work will be shoreline protection, shore line resilience as well as enhancement of key habitat for fin fish, shellfish and shoreline wildlife. In addition, the restoration work will increase these important carbon sinks and thereby help mitigate climate change.

"Eelgrass and salt marsh areas in the K’ómoks Estuary and Baynes Sound have been impacted by development along the shoreline for nearly 100 years," Horgen explained. "Our plan is to restore these carbon sinks back to pre-development days.

"The sequestered carbon will be measured by our team to give us the actual grams of CO2 per m2 that can be captured.  We have surveyed the estuary for existing eelgrass and used old aerial photos and input from elder residents to determine the former extent of eelgrass beds which is at least 251.8 ha.

"Our goal is to create around 150 ha of new eelgrass beds thus doubling the present amount of eelgrass. Within the 2,079-hectare estuary there is a narrow strip of salt marsh along the shore in an irregular pattern as seen from air photos.

The area of this richly organic vegetative biomass is 320 to 350 ha. Project Watershed recognizes the potential to expand this area by shoreline restoration.

For more information, e-mail to projectwatershed@gmail.com, p.horgen@utoronto.ca or srws@shaw.ca.

— Project Watershed Society

 

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