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“They are just remarkable birds,” says Daniel Bouman, shaking his head in awe.
“They can dive over 150 feet down into the water to catch fish. Then they fly incredible distances – 70 to 80 km – inland back to their nest to feed their chicks or to sleep. And these are not big birds,” he says, indicating a distance of less than a foot with his hands.
“For the longest time, they were quite a mystery: no one couldfigure out where they nested. Finally, volunteer researchers found a nest in 1995 in an old-growth tree on the Sunshine Coast. It turns out they need a nice wide mossy tree branch to nest on,” Bouman continues with enthusiasm.
“They are so adapted for diving they’re not very good flyers, so they also need to nest a good distance from the ground, because otherwise they can’t get themselves launched,” Bouman chuckles. “That’s one of the reasons they are so dependent on old-growth forest habitat.”
The bird in question is the fabled marbled murrelet. Bouman is executive director of the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association, and he has become very familiar with the ways of the marbled murrelet. A hearty older man with a wry grin, Bouman is trying to protect the bird’s habitat on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast. The marbled murrelet is listed as threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act, and British Columbia is home to over one quarter of the global population of marbled murrelets.
“In the South Coast region, marbled murrelets have been in rapid decline, related to the logging of old-growth forests and more recently the decline of forage fish species,” Bouman explains.
With funding from Vancouver Foundation, the SCCA is identifying the 50 most important marbled murrelet habitat sites on the Sunshine Coast and submitting them for “nomination” to the Province. Bouman sees this as the first step to getting this critical marbled murrelet habitat protected.
The SCCA is also assembling scientific and historical data to nominate the 12 largest salmon spawning watersheds in the area as Fisheries Sensitive Watersheds, as designated by the B.C. Ministry of Environment. “This is work the government really ought to be doing. But no marbled murrelet habitat or Fisheries Sensitive Watersheds have been nominated in the five years since the legislation came out. So we’re trying to help them out,” Bouman says dryly.
While many think of the Sunshine Coast as a rural area with lots of wilderness, Bouman notes that only three per cent of the land in the area is protected in parks, compared to an average of 14 per cent in the rest of B.C. “The Sunshine Coast has really been neglected,” says Bouman.
That’s why SCCA’s project also includes a vigorous public education component. “The public really wants to know what’s going on, and we want to inform them. We want to bring people to a scientific understanding of the issues so they can be more effective in making decisions about what’s right outside their back door,” Bouman explains. To that end, the SCCA is creating presentations for the public and local government, as well as a web-based multilayered map of the murrelets’ habitat.
“This project has several different aspects leading to one greater purpose. By protecting marbled murrelet and salmon habitat, we also protect other vulnerable species that live in the same ecosystem,” says Bouman. “By educating the public, we aim to create a real understanding of biodiversity issues among the general population that will help protect the marbled murrelet, the salmon, the plants, and all the other inhabitants of the Sunshine Coast’s oldgrowth forest ecosystems long into the future.”
Bouman smiles a craggy smile. “And this project wouldn’t be happening without Vancouver Foundation. So on behalf of the marbled murrelets, the salmon, and the people of the Sunshine Coast, thanks.” VF
Learn more about the work of the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association online at: www.thescca.ca