On the Ground: SeaChange Marine Conservation

Crews spread gravel around the Tod Inlet beach as part of a beach reconstruction project by SeaChange Marine Conservation Society.

It’s been over a hundred years since the sounds of industry dominated Tod Inlet, but recently the whir of machinery filled this coastal landscape once more, albeit for a much different reason.

The sound came from the excavators and loaders that descended on the beach of Tod Inlet on a snowy February day to give this coastline a fighting chance to get back to the health and vitality it once knew.

Home to the Vancouver Portland Cement Company from 1904 to 1913, this hidden pocket of nature is known for the remnants of old buildings, train tracks and pillars that dot its walking trails and beachfronts. A fascinating reminder of the area’s industrial past, the relics also tell a different story, of an important ecological area nearly ruined for more than a century.

Before industry ever came to Tod Inlet, in fact before Tod Inlet was renamed as Tod Inlet by European settlers in 1859, it was a village site of the WSÁNE? peoples and known as S?ID?E?, or the Place of the Blue Grouse. It was a source of food and medicine, an important site for the local First Nations, before industry left its mark on the land and the water.

Along with its toll on the forest and land it inhabited, contamination from the cement plant rendered the once thriving aquatic First Nations harvesting site uninhabitable for shellfish.

Ian Bruce, Executive Coordinator of the Peninsula Streams Society, and Nikki Wright, SeaChange Executive Director, at Tod Inlet on the day of the big beach restoration.

Since 2000, working with the Tsartlip First Nation, BC Parks and Peninsula Streams Society, SeaChange Marine Conservation Society has been working towards revitalizing this area to its pre-industry prime.

“Humans in this instance created the problem, but we can also fix it,” said Nikki Wright, SeaChange Executive Director.

In 2000, SeaChange planted eelgrass in the inlet, to improve its marine ecosystem. On the land, starting in 2006, large efforts have been made to remove invasive plants from the area, such as ivy and blackberry, and encourage the growth of native species, once important sources of food and medicine to local First Nations.

“There’s a larger picture at work here, of which the shoreline restoration is a very dramatic piece,” Wright said. “But it all has to do with the lands, the waters, the forest and all the wildlife it contains. We expect this to be a 100 year plan.”

The shoreline restoration itself has been ongoing for the past three years.

To begin with, material from the shoreline was excavated prior to the addition of new gravel and sand to the beach. In total, 3,200 tons of gravel and 800 tons of sand were barged in from Sechelt and dumped onto the beachhead with a conveyor belt. From there the machinery spread the gravel around over the shallow subtidal and lower intertidal areas, and the sand directly behind that area.

Wright explained that some passersby were taken aback at first by the presence of heavy equipment in this typically serene area, but once they were told the purpose, all were supportive and grateful for the work.

“To see the results of the work that it took to get to this place, it’s a joyful event,” Wright said.

But the effort isn’t over and it will be some time before the full impact of the restoration is known. The beach may look better than it has for a few generations, but whether or not the clams return will be the ultimate test to see if the once grievously injured Tod Inlet can be truly restored to full health.

To learn more about SeaChange Marine Conservation Society, click here.

And watch the On the Ground video below to see the beach restoration in action.