Gaps in Research for the Race Rocks Pilot Marine Protected Area.

Posted April 17, 1999 | Categories : 97,Management,Research |

Race Rocks Ecological reserve photo by Adam Harding


Gaps in Research for the
Race Rocks Pilot Marine Protected Area. From a workshop held at Pearson College in April, 1999 on the publication of an Ecosystem Overview database by Garry Fletcher.

The workshop addressed the issue of gaps in research in the afternoon session. The following discussion summarizes points raised in that session and suggests some further actions to be taken. This list is by no means definitive, but it attempts to emphasize the many facets of the ecosystem that is present. Certainly it is not hard to find areas within the reserve that could bear further study since so little has actually been published on the area.

    1. Minimal Impact Research: From the survey of literature required for this project and from my experience over the past several years, the most apparent need in the Race Rocks area is for activities that can be carried out with very minimal impact. The total area of the present reserve is rather limited leading to a restriction of the area to non-consumptive research. We have worked since 1986 with Dr. Anita Brinckmann-Voss under permit, on the ecology and taxonomy of the hydroids in the reserve. Her sampling has been very restricted to small sized samples. Low impact, non-consumptive research like this should be encouraged. Robin Baird has also been responsible over the past few years for doing extensive marine mammal research in the area. Many of his papers are referred to in the database.
    2. Military Blasting: The effects of military blasting on the seabirds and mammal population as well as on the subsurface community should be investigated further. Part of such a study was contracted by the military last year, but no results have been received to date. In addition, feedback from one participant after the workshop indicated that there is a need for research on the receiving ecosystem of all the compounds and breakdown products from blasting and demolition in the rocky point area.
    3. Bioassays for Pollution: Communication with Norm Healey after the workshop brought forward the idea of doing tissue sampling of invertebrates in the reserve. The large population of californianus mussels could provide samples for the testing of the presence of a wide range of human-generated chemicals.
    4. Ecological baseline Studies: Pearson College science classes have been able to do some preliminary studies, and have many records in raw data form from baseline transect work done intertidally and subtidally. More extensive work with outside expertise on a long-term basis should be planned.
    5. Taxonomic studies of many invertebrate groups such as colonial ascidians should be promoted. There are still extensive areas that could be sampled for Bryozoan and Hydrozoan forms. Research by Dr. Anita Brinckmann Voss that turned up new species and new records for North America would tend to indicate that there may be new occurences of other invertebrate or even vertebrate groups .
    6. Plankton studies, especially with underwater monitoring of daily fluctuations and primary productivity investigations could be done at Race Rocks. Since we operate a saltwater pump, for part of the year, an instrument that monitors daily chlorophyll changes could be installed. This could be useful in conjunction with ground-truthing for satellite productivity studies in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The upper tidepools have always been excellent sources of Pyramimonas sp flagellates. The distribution of this species is probably rather restricted along the coast of British Columbia. In this location, the organisms are available in the guano-nourished upper tidepools for much of the year.
    7. Macroalgae: A wide range of macroalgae is abundant in the intertidal areas of Race Rocks. Also, they are easily accessible for research. A small herbarium has been established with samples from Race Rocks over the past years. A more concentrated effort to complete the collection with adequate representation from all species could be possible.
    8. Climatalogical studies: The location and relative security of the light station could lead too more detailed data being gathered using underwater arrays for sensors.
    9. Alternative Energy: This has a practical aspect as well, since the sustainability of the reserve depends on a source of an inexpensive and renewable source of energy. Research into the effectiveness of different prototypes would be an appropriate avenue to pursue.
    10. Ecotourism Impact : There is an obvious need for this due to the ever-increasing use of the area as “Plan B” on the whale- watching itinerary. Furthermore, those benefiting from this activity should be contributing to research to determine the appropriate levels for sustainability for this industry.
    11. Hydrography and Geology. Over the past month we have certainly seen an extraordinary amount of activity in this area. This could stimulate the interest in more research in the waters of greater depth surrounding the main islands. Missing from the research done in the spring of 1999 was a thorough biological survey of the areas in water over 20 meters in depth at Race Rocks. It would not be inappropriate to seek to have some filming done in areas over 20 meters in depth. This is important since we should be aware of the type of life distributed there if boaters and fishermen are going to be allowed to anchor in the deeper waters. This concern is real since there is an increasing concentration of halibut fishers in the area working the 30 to 100 meter depth.
    12. Marine Mammal Research. Chris Malcolm and others from the Whale Research Lab indicated an interest in making contact with Pearson College in the fall term to help out with the fall university field trip.

Projects for the Islands:


    1. Ecological restoration: Last fall we were able to take Cornelia Oberlander, a prominent landscape architect from Vancouver, to Race Rocks to help us envision what would be the best way to manage the landscape. She has designed the grounds for the Museum of Man in Ottawa and other major projects where she specializes in blending human structures into the natural landscape. Reduction of some invasive species and replanting of some of the native fescue grasses that have been eliminated by mowing and introduced grasses was certainly a priority. This would be a good opportunity for a project for students in environmental design. The area of the diesel tank storage, which is to be removed by Coastguard, was a prime area mentioned for restoration to a rocky outcrop ecosystem. When Pearson College became involved in managing the island in 1996, a decision was made to stop the grass cutting, which previously had been the policy of the coastguard. With the cessation of using the grass whips around the rocky outcroppings on the island, there is gradually starting to be a return to some of the species that are only seen on a limited basis on the south coast of Vancouver Island. In April of 1999 for instance, a new clump of Romanzoffia, a blue- listed species has been noted South of the guest residence. Armeria sp. (thrift) has also increased in number on the rock outcrops since the cessation of the grass cutting.
    2. Marine history: Several projects initiated in the past two years by Pearson College students and Faculty have been directed at preserving some of the unique marine heritage of the islands. The weather station room has been converted into a museum where historic photos of the island are on display and two areas outside have had improvements done to preserve past artifacts. Bricks from the original engine room now form a patio around the old flywheel, and a small alcove near the foghorn is the repository for various scattered pieces of equipment form the engine room that were scattered about the island. With some research, a request could be made to the Coast Guard and the Maritime Museum to return some artifacts to the station museum .
    3. Technology for Low Impact : For the discussion on potential areas for research, see the paper in the database and the appendix of this report entitled : Technology for Sustainability. It emphasizes the need for technology to be used to reduce the impact of people in the reserve. It outlines ideas about developing a virtual research site at Race Rocks.
    4. First Nations resources and education. With the appropriate use of technology , the reserve could become an important focus for the traditions of first nations people.

Some Actions that need to be taken:

    1. The permit system through ecological reserves has existed and has often worked well over the past years. A copy of the permit is available on the Race Rocks website and is included in the appendix. Unfortunately some still ignore applying for permits for filming or other commercial uses. The design of the permit does not need to be excessively overburdened with bureaucracy, but it should be consistently applied. There needs to be a clear way for a responsible person who has a broad overview of all aspects of the reserve to sort out legitimate permit requests, and the process needs to be obvious to all, especially in the scientific community. I wish to caution against the need of a large committee to sort out requests as this could unduly impede the progress benefits to the reserve.
    2. It was emphasized that it is the responsibility of Fisheries to implement a way to have commercial users of the reserve contribute to it’s upkeep. In particular, an immediate plan to implement a nominal user fee for commercial operations involving marine mammal watching. The funds from this revenue could help to offset the cost of keeping people employed to be manager-guardians of the island. The example of the one dollar per seat charge at Tofino was given. Money collected by the charter boats helps in the ongoing research in the area.
    3. The ecosystem is resilient for certain activities at various times of the year, but seasonality of events especially as they pertain to Great Race Rocks has to take top priority in determining human entry to the island and use of it’s facilities. Seabird nesting in the summer, concentrated Sea lion haul-out in the fall, harbour seal birthing in the late spring limit the level of human entry to the main island. It should also become immediate policy that access to the outlying islands should be exclusively by permit.
    4. The continued presence of guardian managers on the island is valued highly. Several participants were concerned that the reserve’s unique biological diversity could be preserved by an MPA but only if there were immediate plans forthcoming to provide for a continued presence of guardians on the island.
    5. The establishment of a buffer zone around the area has to be carefully considered. The visuals presented by Jim Galloway, and the other members of the hydrography team, suggested to many that a logical boundary for the reserve exists at the limit of the rock margin of the island. This would represent a significant increase in size, but could be limited in the kinds of activity, anchoring, fishing or shellfish harvesting.
    6. The Race Rocks Ecological Reserve Management Plan prepared in 1998 was included in the materials handed out at the workshop. This plan is also included in the electronic database, and is attached as an appendix in this report. There wasn’t sufficient time in the workshop to review the Management Plan, but it is to be hoped that wider distribution of the draft copy will encourage a re-working of the document to be done very soon. Participants were urged to use that plan as a basis for developing a new MPA Management Plan.