A part of the traditional and unceded territory of the Quw’utsun’ People, the Cowichan estuary is a 400-hectare ecosystem teeming with wildlife. Here you can find eelgrass meadows with juvenile Pacific salmon, trout, herring and rockfish hiding within the blades. Look closer at low tide, and you will find clams, snails, crabs, nudibranchs, sea stars and sea anemones! The abundance of marine life draws many migratory and resident birds, as well as harbour seals, Steller and California sea lions, to feed at the estuary. Nearby, a large colony of nearly two hundred Pacific Great Blue Herons return to the Wessex Ravine each spring to nest in the woodlands.
Why is there so much biological diversity at the estuary? The estuary is where the river meets the ocean. As freshwater flows from the Koksilah and Cowichan rivers, the nutrients from the land mix with seawater, creating a rich, brackish habitat for aquatic life to flourish. For thousands of years the Quw’utsun’ People used the estuary to harvest salmon, shellfish and herring roe in a sustainable manner.
Today, the estuary is threatened due to human activity. In the 1850s, European settlers arrived and established Cowichan Bay as a Hudson’s Bay Company fort. From the 1870s, the logging industry used the estuary to store and transport logs, damaging the eelgrass habitat and the species that rely on it. Today, residential development, agricultural practices, and recreational and other human activities in and around the bay continue to affect life in the estuary, and awareness-raising and habitat restoration work is making a difference.
Learn more about the salmon, herons and sea lions in the area, and the work of the Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre to protect the estuary. We invite you to join us in the movement to educate and take action to conserve this unique ecosystem.