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Exploring 100 Islands of the BC Central Coast - Hakai Institute

Exploring 100 Islands of the BC Central Coast

Who needs the Beagle when you have zodiacs?

Just as Darwin set out on the Beagle to document the biodiversity of the unknown world, so too has the 100 Islands research team returned from the field with a summer’s worth of samples, specimens, and more than a few experiences to share.

In its inaugural year, the 100 Islands Research Program sought to understand the relationship between an island’s physical characteristics and the biodiversity that each island possesses. Then we wanted to know, how do nutrients from the sea coming onshore affect the ecology of plants, birds, mammals, and insects?

To find this out, we have begun work that will see us conduct biodiversity surveys on 100 islands on the Central Coast of British Columbia. While our work may not result in any new ecological theories as Darwin’s did, little is known about the diversity of these islands and a summer of field expeditions has begun to shed some light on the myriad creatures and plants that inhabit this region.

Of course, no expedition is complete without an intrepid team ready to brave the wilderness and the challenges posed by conducting fieldwork in a remote marine setting. This summer, 12 researchers spent two months travelling the Central Coast performing baseline surveys of terrestrial plants, invertebrates, sea wrack, breeding birds, and terrestrial mammals.

Planning a two-month-long camping trip for 15 to 20 people is no easy task; logistics such as remote campsite space, food, camping equipment, science equipment, transportation, and toilets (!) are just the start. This may be why the project earned the nickname “100 issues” around Hakai Institute headquarters. However, once all the details were ironed out, two teams of researchers were sent out to camp at five different sites ranging from the Goose and McMullins Groups in the north to Penrose Island in the south. From these campsites, researchers took day trips via canoe and Zodiac to nearby island sites.

By the end of the summer, some researchers had managed to visit 58 islands in total. They discovered that the combination of salal (Gultheria shallon) and black gooseberry (Ribes lacustre) will create a near-impenetrable barrier, and that you can never have too many Ziploc baggies for collection purposes.

The mammal research team detected the presence of 5 to 7 mammal species across 30 islands, ranging from tiny shrews (Sorex spp.) to wolves (Canis lupus)—a definite highlight.

The researchers studying sea wrack were excited to find large and diverse wrack lines across the more exposed island sites as they sampled more than 7,000 square metres of beach.

And the breeding bird research team recorded the presence of a western screech owl with a songmeter.

Some other highlights included: magical sunsets, wolf encounters, whale encounters, no grizzly bear encounters, months of dry weather, Katie dancing, and cookies.

This fall will be an exciting time for the 100 Islands program as data will be analyzed for emerging patterns. The researchers look forward to sharing their initial findings on how ecosystem subsidies affect patterns of biodiversity across the heavily marine-influenced region of the Central Coast at the Hakai Research Exchange in October.

All team members would like to extend their gratitude and appreciation for the support from our PI’s (Brian Starzomski, Chris Darimont, John Reynolds, and Trisalyn Nelson), the Hakai Institute and its staff, the Heiltsuk and Wuikinuxv Nations, Cal Humchitt, Simon Fraser University, and the University of Victoria.