Soon, the beach at North Saanich’s Pat Bay will be a lot easier to walk upon, but the gravel being spread there is not just for people — it’s for fish habitat and protection of the shoreline.
More than 3,800 tonnes of beach-grade gravel has been spread along Pat Bay, next to the Tseycum First Nation and West Saanich Road over the last few weeks. Ian Bruce, executive director of Peninsula Streams, says it’s the latest phase of a project that started in 2012. Gravel is being spread out to raise the height of the beach, which Bruce said has two purposes.
The first is to reduce the impact of incoming waves on the shoreline. Much of it has been armoured with rock and a portion of it is home to a First Nations cemetery that was at one time in danger of eroding and exposing the remains of people interred there. As well, erosion threatens slope stability beside a heavily-used road in North Saanich.
Second, the height creates better habitat for small feeder fish, like sand lance and smelt, which lay microscopic eggs in the gravel. Bruce said these species provide food for other fish like salmon which, in turn, contribute to the food supply for larger mammals, like killer whales.
To do all this, Peninsula Streams has been working with the First Nation, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and others to fund the project. Since 2012, he estimates more than 6,000 tonnes of gravel — based on existing material taken from the beach — has been added to much of the two-and-a-half kilometre shoreline. And if he has his way, the entire stretch of Pat Bay will soon be changed.
The work involves the creation of rock sills, used to hold back the gravel from direct wave action, and what are called groins — rock barriers that also hold back the drifting tide action that moves sand and gravel north and south, depending on wind and wave action. The result since the project began, Bruce noted on a tour of the beach, is improvements to the shoreline.
Testing of the area has also revealed that it’s already being used as habitat. Bruce said the beach is being regularly surveyed for the amount of small fish eggs and how the beach is taking shape over time. Bruce said all of the work is based on recommendations from experts, like geologists and coastal engineers.
In recent weeks, Bruce said the third phase of the project has been nearing completion. Any leftover gravel will be stockpiled at the north end of Pat Bay and used when there’s a need to shore up any areas affected by erosion. He added Peninsula Streams is also working with members of the Tseycum to grow beach grasses — some of which has already been planted to help stabilize the inner shore area.
The side benefit to all this work, is turning what had for years been a very rocky beach, into something a lot easier to walk on. Bruce said that could mean more people will be able to enjoy Pat Bay — and learn more about the habitat and how it contributes to the overall health of other species in the Saanich Inlet and the rest of the Salish Sea.
Bruce said he expects phase three to be complete soon, after which comes grant applications for more funds to complete another section of the bay. It’s a long-term project, one that Bruce said is already showing it’s working and having a positive impact on the health of Pat Bay.