British Columbia

'It's like an apocalypse': Mosquitoes ruining quality of life for some Vancouver Islanders

Residents of Miracle Beach, on Vancouver Island, say mosquitoes have become unbearable.

Climate change and increase in building development likely to blame, says mosquito control expert

Vancouver Island residents near Miracle Beach say the mosquitoes have become so bad they can barely set foot outside during the summer. (CBC)

Adria Cowan says she and her husband moved into their dream house near Miracle Beach on Vancouver Island a year ago. 

But the dream has since become a nightmare.

Cowan says the area's summer mosquito problem has reached the point where she and her two children can hardly step outside.

"You have to dress like it's winter or else they're biting you through your jeans … It's like an apocalypse," she said.

Cowan has placed about 20 cans of mosquito spray around her property and taken other steps to try to reduce the numbers, but nothing seems to work.

"My husband [takes a] vacuum cleaner and sucks up hundreds of mosquitos from the ceiling so they don't attack us in our beds at night," she said. 

Nearby salt marsh is prime habitat

The first reports of an over-abundance of mosquitoes in the Comox Valley occurred in 2015. Two years later, a report conducted by the company Current Environmental found the Black Creek salt marsh channel near Miracle Beach was prime habitat for breeding mosquitoes. The company recommended that a pest management plan be created if complaints continued.

Now, residents say the swarm has moved to inland grassy areas.

"We are prisoners in our own homes," said resident Wendy Blackburn. She said she dreads having her children return to school in September, as the mosquitoes are extremely vicious in the grass on the school field.

"We also have cancer-causing [mosquito repellant] that we're spraying on our children in mass quantities," she said. 

Curtis Feduik is the president of Duka Environmental Services in Langley, which offers mosquito control services to communities in Western Canada. He said mosquitoes are likely to swarm grassy areas because plant sugars are a food source.

Kill them at the source

Feduik said in a community where the problem is as bad as Miracle Beach, the only way to curb mosquito numbers is to constantly monitor where they breed, and kill off larvae before they mature.

He noted the pest increase is likely due to increased building development disrupting mosquito habitats, and climate change.

"I've been doing this for 30 years and mosquito development has changed," he said. "We always used to start our mosquito control [programs] on May 1 … Now some programs on Vancouver Island we actually start in January."

He said natural control methods, like building bat and bird boxes, will only go so far, as there are often too many mosquitoes.

Regional district taking action

Edwin Grieve, the area director at the Comox Valley Regional District, said he's heard the residents' concerns loud and clear. "This isn't just an annoyance. This is a serious threat [to community health and safety]," he said.

He said he's made calls to the local school board, B.C. Parks, and the provincial government, noting it's difficult for a regional district to secure enough funding to implement a mosquito control program.

"Whatever we do is probably going to involve partners at multiple levels of government, and it's going to take a while," he explained.

Cowan said if the problem isn't fixed soon, she'll pack her bags and move elsewhere.

"[This house] is what we've worked for our whole lives, and it's where we want our kids to be, but the quality of life just isn't there."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam van der Zwan is a journalist for CBC, based in Victoria, B.C. You can send him a news tip at adam.vdz@cbc.ca.

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