Project looks to restore North Vancouver mudflats where First Nations once harvested seafood
Decades of logging and dredging activity put an end to the bounty
A restoration project in North Vancouver is looking to clean up the area to bring back marine life after decades of industry logging and dredging put an end to the bounty.
The waterfront at Maplewood Flats, east of the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge, was once a key place for the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation to harvest shellfish and salmon, but years of industrial use took a heavy toll on the area.
"The Burrard Inlet once provided over 90 per cent of the food that Tsleil-Waututh community members ate," said John Konovsky, a senior advisor on environmental issues for the Tsleil-Waututh.
"Today it's probably less than one per cent — a few crabs every year."
It's something that the Tsleil-Waututh community wants mended, Konovsky said.
"Some of our elders talk about how much kelp used to be found out here and it's pretty rare these days," he told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.
"The community is really interested in being able to harvest again locally."
New habitat and vegetation
The Maplewood Flats were once one of the three big estuaries of the Burrard Inlet, essential to the healthy function of the inlet.
The restoration project is a partnership between the Port of Vancouver and the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation and will take three to four years to complete.
The plan is to restore the area as much as possible, said Charlotte Olsen, manager of infrastructure habitat development at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.
Mudflats, also known as tidal flats, are coastal wetlands found near the shoreline in areas protected from waves.
They're a key part of the ecosystem because they attract shorebirds and house crabs, fish and other marine life. They're also important in preventing coastal erosion.
"What we are looking to do is create, essentially, habitat benches within that marine basin to provide marine vegetation for fish and other marine invertebrates that will flourish in the area," Olsen explained.
On the surface of the water, it might not look very different once the plan is completed — but underneath, there will be "lush vegetation" supporting the marine life.
Future of the area
Konovsky says he knows Maplewood Flats won't be exactly the same as before.
"We're not trying to recreate what used to be here, that's impossible to go back," he said.
"We're just trying to find some opportunities that allow renewed habitat function in the area."
Even if the project doesn't lead to immaculate mudflats, Konovsky hopes the efforts will improve conditions elsewhere in the inlet.
"The water here is still too polluted to dig shellfish," Konovsky said.
"While [harvesting] may not occur right here, the benefits this brings to the rest of Burrard Inlet will allow those sorts of harvest activities elsewhere where the water is truly clean."
With files from Jennifer Chen and The Early Edition.