|THE RACE ROCKS ECOLOGICAL RESERVE
This file is based on the original INFORMATION PAMPHLET. Most of the information is also accessible through the ecosystem or management pages.
VISITING THE ECOLOGICAL RESERVE:
Hazards, Light Station, Marine Mammals and Sea Birds, Anchoring, Fishing, Collecting, Research, Diving, Kayaks , Canoes,and Small Boats, Weather, Tides and Currents, Research and Education, Permits
What is An Ecological Reserve? (LINK)
Ecological reserves are areas set aside by the province of British Columbia for the conservation of both exceptional and representative natural features of scientific and educational significance. Ecological reserves maintain the option for present and future researchers to study ecological communities in an undisturbed , natural state. They serve as benchmarks against which changes induced by human actions can be measured. Many ecological reserves also serve as banks of genetic material and protect rare and endangered native plants and animals in their natural environment.
THE RACE ROCKS MARINE ECOLOGICAL RESERVE
This reserve was established in 1980 following a proposal from students and staff of Lester B. Pearson College, located in nearby Pedder Bay.
The 220 hectares of the reserve include an area of ocean, rocks and reefs bounded by the 36.6 meters ( 20 fathom ) contour. Map of boundaries
The reserve surrounds the Race Rocks Light Station the oldest staffed light station in Western Canada, but excludes the land area of Great Race Rock with the lighthouse itself.
This area was chosen for ecological reserve status because of its unique richness and diversity of marine life. Race Rocks is ideally located to receive a constant supply of plankton swept past by almost continuous strong currents (up to 7 knots) . This provides nourishment for a complex group of underwater organisms underwater. The ebb tide twice a day funnels water rich in nutrients from coastal rivers and tidal marshes along the Strait of Georgia and Puget Sound through this narrow part of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Also twice a day, flood tides bring water from nutrient-rich upwellings of the Pacific Ocean. The result is that Race Rocks becomes a transition zone between the inner coastal waters and the open ocean. This contributes to the exceptional variety of marine life that we see here.
The larger predators in this ecosystem are the transient pods of Orca (killer) whales (Orcinus orca) that frequent the waters. California sea lions (Zalophus califonianus) and Northern sea lions ( Eumetopias jubata) haul out on the rocks between the months of September and May. in numbers often well over one thousand. Several hundred harbour seals (Phoca vitulina )make the island their home the year round, bearing their young on the islands in June and July. A small number of elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) have also started to appear around the islands , even hauling up on the jetty slipway in the summer and fall. A family of river otters (Lutra canadensis) has also taken up residence on the reserve. There has been the occasional sighting of a lone Alaskan Fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) on the reserve over the years. Dall's porpoises (Phocoenoides dalli) and Gray Whales (Eschrishtius robustus) are also seen in the local waters on rare occasions.
The islands serve as nesting colonies for about 500 sea birds and as a stopover during migration. Glaucous-winged gulls (Larus glaucescens) - and pelagic cormorants (Phalacrocorax pelagicus ) are the most abundant nesting birds in the months of June and July. Cormorant nests can be seen on the cliffs below the helicopter pad, and on the southern outer island. The gulls nest in the spray zone around the perimeter of the main island and on the small outer islands. Pigeon Guillemots(Cepphus columba) nest in rock crevasses on the central island and up to 10 pairs of black oyster-catchers(Haematopus bachmani) nest in the area as well.
Bald Eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus frequent the area, with groups of up to 50 birds being recorded there sitting on the rocks in the winter months. A few of these birds nest on the nearby Rocky Point area.
Harlequin ducks (Histrionicus histrionicus ), black turnstones,(Arenaria melanocephala ), surf birds,(Aphriza virgata) Rock Sandpiper Calidris ptilocnemiscan be observed occasionally, especially in the winter months.
In the local waters of race passage, common murres,Uria aalge, Rhinoceros aukletCerorhinca monocerata, ancient murreletSynthliboramphus antiquus, and marbled murreletBrachyramphus marmoratus are occasional visitors. In the fall and winter the most abundant birds are the Glaucous-winged gulls (Larus glaucescens) and Brandt's cormorantsPhalacrocorax penicillatus on the islands and common murres on the surrounding waters.
Underwater at Race Rock's is a diver's paradise if proper precautions are taken. Divers have for years made friends with individual wolf eels and because spear-fishing has been prohibited, black perch, kelp greenling, several species of rockfish, and sculpin are easily approached underwater. Occasionally ling cod are also spotted underwater, and in the winter, as they are nesting, they are often hostile to the presence of divers.
The group that is most interesting to many divers however is the invertebrates. Large populations of sponges, sea anemones, (Especially the colorful brooding anemone), over 65 species of hydroids, bright pink hydrocoral and soft coral , bryozoans, molluscs,( including many species of chiton, limpet, snails,mussels, scallops as well as the pacific octopus), giant barnacles, a variety of colonial tunicates, three species of sea urchin , sea cucumbers and basket stars , adorn the underwater cliffs. Few of the species live in isolation and a large number of biotic associations have been recorded.
In the high rock pools, which can fluctuate from fresh water to salt water, live microscopic flagellated euglenoids (Protista) that give the pools a bright green color. These organisms have adapted to the wide range of salinity fluctuations, being immersed in fresh water at times of heavy rainfall, in ocean water with a salinity of 30 parts per thousand after an ocean storm, and in a concentrated saline solution after evaporation on a hot day. They thrive, nourished by the nutrient runoff from bird feces on the rock surfaces. In the intertidal area around the islands , more than 15 species of red, green and brown algae survive with some areas exhibiting striking algal zonation patterns on the intertidal shoreline.
The zonation pattern of this area in the North Pacific is markedly different from that found in the Atlantic. Here several red algae species occupy relatively high levels on the intertidal shoreline. Halosaccion glandiforme, Endocladia muricata and Porphyra sp. are examples of these. In some of the intertidal tide pools, the rock walls are covered with pink encrusting Lithothamnion sp. and populations of coraline algae. Particularly abundant in early spring at higher intertidal levels is the red algae Porphyra sp. (the algae the Japanese use for nori ) In two small isolated areas of the intertidal zone on the main island , Great Race Rock, grow the antler shaped Codium fragile , rare to this area but reported to be a serious problem for the New England shellfish industry. The sea grass Phyllospadix scouleri is abundant in a narrow band near zero tide level as well as in the deeper tidepools on the western side of the main island. Fringing the island starting only meters from shore is a dense canopy of the Bull Kelp Nereocystis luetkeana that extends underwater to 12 meters . Further information on the Macroalgae of the ecological reserve can bee found in the MACROALGAE FILE
VISITING THE ECOLOGICAL RESERVE
If you wish to visit the reserve, please observe the following precautions , guidelines and recommendations:
Recognize that the Race Rocks area is an area of unpredictable weather , with high currents ( up to 7 knots), winds that may come up suddenly , churning up violent seas , heavy and unexpected swells that cause intermittent breaking waves long after a storm has disappeared. It has many rocks and reefs and thick fog that can roll in unannounced, especially in the summer months.
Only very well planned visits and dives should be made with a sturdy boat , well equipped for emergencies. There is no anchoring allowed in the reserve due to the fragile nature of the underwater community. All boats visiting the reserve should be well equipped for emergencies The Race Passage current tables should be consulted and understood. Always be very observant about changing weather conditions.
2. LIGHT STATION
landing at the docks is by permission only. The visitors book located on the boat house wall at the top of the jetty must be signed. Be sure to respect the private property on the island and the privacy of the individuals living on it. There are no public facilities available ashore. Please enter the buildings on invitation only. If a dive flag is raised at the end of the docks, stay clear and wait for a signal to approach.
3. MARINE MAMMALS AND SEA BIRDS
Approach the islands carefully and view or photograph the sea lions, seals , and sea birds quietly from a distance that does not disturb. If sea lions are leaving the rocks when you approach, you are definitely too close. Entry onto any of the small islands should be by permit only. Disruption by boaters can seriously interfere with se bird nesting between May and September. Unattended cormorant nests are easy prey for other birds. It is essential that you leave at least 100 meters between your boat and killer whales if you are observing them in the reserve.
Anchor in the reserve only in emergencies. Delicate sea life covers every bit of rock surface underwater and is easily ripped apart by anchors. Use the docks if possible. There are no other temporary mooring facilities in the area.
The Ecological Reserve Act applies to the land and to land under water , including all marine life associated with the sea bed. Fishing for bottom fish such as rock cod and greenling is not permitted. Since 1990, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has placed a closure on all commercial fisheries in the area and for recreational fisheries. Since 2000 thos has extended to the taking of all species within the reserve .
6. COLLECTING and HARVESTING
Collecting in the reserve and any kind of harvesting, including shellfish and seaweed is prohibited under the Ecological Reserves Act regulations. You are encouraged to use your camera, but please do not disturb or "rearrange " marine life in the process. Always display a dive flag when divers are underwater.
Studies in the reserve are welcome. For those interested in doing projects or research on the reserve, permits have to be obtained from the Ecological Reserves Coordinator well in advance of the anticipated starting date.
The best time to dive at Race Rocks is on a slack tide that changes to a flood. Inexperienced divers and certainly those on introductory certification dives should avoid diving in the area. The yearly water temperature ranges from 8 to 11 degrees Celsius. It is best to avoid strong ebb tides, especially when diving from the docks. Fly a dive flag from the docks and please inform the station keeper, but remember that he is not responsible for your safety while you are in the reserve. Divers especially should have adequate boat cover if they are diving on the reserve, as strong currents can easily make it impossible to return to shore.
Divers are advised to dive attached to a marker buoy, and to carry in their pocket a folded up orange garbage bag to be used as a large visible object in case they are swept away by the currents. Underwater, divers should take care to weight themselves properly and to maintain proper trim in the water so that their fins are not always kicking the organisms they are passing over. It is also important to refrain from grabbing at kelp to control themselves in the current, as some of the perennial kelps such as Pterygophora californica. are very old and can easily be torn away from their attachment on the bottom.
9. KAYAKS, CANOES and SMALL BOATS
Small vessels unaccompanied by a powerful motorized craft are dangerous in the area. Currents frequently change quickly and run up to 7 knots. Many small boats have been known to capsize in the area, and there is little chance of rescue being assured in rough conditions. Sea lions are large animals and they could pose a potential danger to small craft. The closest marina is at Pedder Bay Marina, 5 kilometers from the reserve. Kayaks , because of their quiet approach are often the type of vessel s which cause the most panic and stampeding , especially among the harbour seals , but also with the sea lions. We urge you not to tour the islands in kayaks. There are no public facilities.
The following information may be useful in judging weather conditions, but exceptions can always be anticipated. In the summer , westerly winds predominate. If under 20 knots and an ebb tide is running, you can often approach to the dock. If the winds are above 20 knots, then they may increase severely putting any size of boat in danger. A westerly swell can result from high winds and it can be reflected into the harbour, making docking impossible.
If winds are Easterly and approaching 20 knots in any tidal conditions, avoid Race Rocks. Winds are often from this direction between October and March. Docking is difficult if not impossible when the wind blows from the northeast. On days with no wind, swells from storms of several days past or from storms in the Pacific Ocean may restrict your access to the island.
Between June and September a dense fog bank, accompanied by strong winds may move down the Strait of Juan de Fuca rapidly from the west, blanketing the area completely and making navigation by chart and compass necessary. Tug boats with log booms in tow can make the Race passage area very dangerous in such conditions.
11. TIDES and CURRENTS
For tidal levels consult this file for Canadian Tides and Currents information for the Victoria Area. When tidal levels fall below one meter, there is very little (if any) water depth at the docks, the end of the dock being near 0 tide level.
The Race Passage Tables should be consulted for the currents in the area. Keep in mind that times of tidal changes can vary when influenced by storms or unusual weather conditions in the preceding days. You must not tie up a boat to the Rosedale bouy as it is Coast Guard property.
12. RESEARCH and EDUCATION
Since it's inception in 1980, there has been a continuous monitoring of underwater and intertidal life in various parts of the reserve by science students, members of the diving activity in CoastWatch and the diving faculty of Lester B. Pearson College. They also serve as volunteer wardens of the reserve, Each year, several hundred elementary school children from the local school district are taken to the reserve for an ecology visit. They gain first hand experience in the complexities of this marine system and develop an appreciation for the way that human interactions with the marine environment can have serious implications for organisms. Other groups and individuals visit the reserve on a regular basis.
13. PERMITS AND FURTHER INFORMATION
If you wish further information about the reserve, application for permit or if you wish to report incidents of violation of regulations on the ecological reserve, please contact:
BC Parks Victoria, British Columbia
Canada V9B 5T9
It is necessary to obtain a permit for any project that one plans to carry out on the reserve. Permits have been granted for research on transient Orca whales, for research on specific scientific investigations such as classification and study of ecology of invertebrates for project work on other invertebrates, for television projects, as well as for photography for magazine articles.
See this file for the regulations and permits for using the facilities at Race Rocks.
For further information contact: Garry Fletcher