Here’s a question: which nearby marine park is known by three different names?
Welcome to Jáji7ejm and Kw’uhl Marine Park (2012), also known as Sandy Island Marine Park (1988), or locally known and loved for years as Tree Island.
The island is located on the northern tip of Denman Island, with a cautionary note that it is accessible by foot on a low-tide, well-timed, one-kilometre hike across the sandbar from Longbeak Point. Hikers from Denman Island need to pay close attention because the moon loves to pull the tide high over the linking sandbar. Even though it’s one island with three names, no one is going to walk on water to leave. The miracle is this: no park user fees.
Like so many provincial parks experiencing COVID-19 pressure from staycationers, Sandy Island’s proximity is both its charm and liability. Yachts, power or sail, kayaks, canoes, even paddleboarders cross the protected waters from Union Bay and Comox Harbour, to reach the island’s shore. The variety of visitors are met by the island’s diverse ecosystem of forest and meadow, mammals and marine wildlife, shell middens and sandy beaches. Swim, day picnic, weekend camp, bird watch, fish, dig for clams, study nature, or simply sit on the beach and watch the waves until you feel yourself again.
How can we protect this beautiful island from being so loved by us? In spite of large No Fire signs, the BC Parks website puts it like this: “Unfortunately, some of these visitors light fires, leave garbage, damage trees and plants and allow their dogs to run free, actions which are putting this small and fragile park at risk.”
Some 20 years ago, BC Parks entered into a stewardship agreement with the Comox Valley Yacht Club, whose volunteers help on summer weekends to protect the island from fire and pick up garbage. The worst offender is the mounting pile of uncollected aquaculture trash. What doesn’t get hung up on Denman from the Baynes Sound shellfish industry, finds its way to Jáji7ejm and Kw’uhl Marine Park. If you happen to visit, walk past the tangle of plastic trays and nets, to find a trail through the huge old trees. Consider the fir, aspen, arbutus, and maple. Watch for the deer and listen for the eagle. Kick over the burnt campfire remains and consider the fragile gift of time.