Intertidal zone one of many marine wonders

  • Jul. 4, 2008 5:00 p.m.

Submitted by Gwaii Haanas-Exploring Haida Gwaii includes much more than visiting the new Haida Heritage Centre at Qay Llnagaay, hearing the swoosh of water at the base of Tow Hill, or watching bald eagles swoop and perform death-defying acrobatics overhead. No island adventure is complete until you’ve seen the greatest collection of technicolour creatures on earth. To observe this jaw-dropping assortment, you need to look down. Not where you’re standing now. Find a beach at low tide – here you’ll find the intertidal zone.This area is literally located between low tide and high tide. As Jim Lynch begins his novel, The Highest Tide, “if you tell people what you see at low tide they’ll think you’re exaggerating or lying when you’re actually just explaining strange and wonderful things as clearly as you can. You’d have to be a scientist, a poet and a comedian to hope to describe it all accurately, and even then you’d often fall short.”A few weeks ago Clint Johnson Kendrick, a Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve Warden and his partner, Patrol Officer Billy Yovanovich, rediscovered this world along the seashore. A discarded seven inch-long shell piqued their curiosity. Later they found what looked like small elephant trunks sticking out of the sand and rock along the beach. They had come across some geoducks (Panopea abrupta). The spelling of this clam’s name is quite confusing, as it is pronounced “gooey-duck”. The name and pronunciation comes from the Nisqually First Nation (Puget Sound area), and means “dig deep” -referring to the metre or so down you’d have to dig to get to this clam’s shell. The geoduck extends two siphons up through the sand to reach the water where it feeds on algae. These siphons are encased in what looks surprisingly like an elephant’s trunk. Geoducks can grow to an impressive 4.5 kilograms, but what is most surprising is their life expectancy. The oldest known geoduck was fished from Tasu Sound, off the west coast of Haida Gwaii, and aged at 168 years old. Often we think of “old growth” as a term referring only to trees. But, in the waters and intertidal zone of Haida Gwaii, there are a number of creatures that could be described as “old growth”, including the geoduck. This is one of the reasons why the Government of Canada is working to expand the boundary of Gwaii Haanas deep into the ocean with a National Marine Conservation Area Reserve.Geoducks support a valuable shellfish fishery, with about 65 percent, or approximately $24 million, of the commercial activity occurring within the proposed National Marine Conservation Area Reserve. Every person who spends time on Haida Gwaii develops some level of relationship to the surrounding marine environment. Some of us depend upon the marine environment for our livelihood, others regularly feed upon the bounty it provides, and then there are those who simply observe its amazing inhabitants and changing moods. A National Marine Conservation Area aims to balance these needs.This week a new publication celebrating the Gwaii Haanas marine environment, its creatures, and the relationship between people and the sea has been circulated near you. The story of Gwaii Haanas Marine brings together a wealth of research, revealing complex ecosystems and the hidden lives of some amazing creatures, including geoducks!If this article interests you, keep an eye out for The story of Gwaii Haanas marine at a public place near you. Otherwise contact the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site office at 250-559-8818 for your own copy.