Sand Ecosystems

Hakai is famous for its massive inventory of sand. Sand forms a connected system, including dunes, beaches, sandbars, and subtidal shoals, which are all in constant flux. Winter storms tear the dunes apart and strew across the beaches all the logs and driftwood that have been hidden buried within. Withdrawing breakers drag the sand outward across the beaches and out into the shoals. A big storm at high tide can transform the land and seascape in a few hours. Then, over the ensuing months, the tides, waves, and wind slowly restore the balance, reburying the logs and rebuilding the dunes. Many species are adapted to this dynamic–sometimes chaotic– set of ecosystems. Most obvious is our native dune grass. It may look fragile, but it is very robust. It not only survives cycles of natural disturbance but thrives because of them.

Bog Forest

Popular sentiment holds that BC’s coast is covered with stands of monumental conifers. Hakai had its share of forest giants on the well-drained land between Pruth Bay and West Beach, but most of them were logged fifty years ago. When you walk the trail, you’ll see the huge stumps of red cedar and Sitka spruce bearing witness. However, most of the forest you’ll see at Hakai and much of the coastal landscape of BC is what is known as bog forest. Bog forest is a strikingly austere landscape of peat bogs, fens, and barren highlands that have been stripped of soil by past glaciation and high winds. Those gnarled little trees can be hundreds of years old. Our bog forests are technically “old growth”—they’ve never been logged. While they may have no commercial value, they have great ecological significance as carbon sources. Take a close look at the remarkable beauty and complexity of bog forest ecosystems. They are home to huge populations of insects and to the plants that prey on them, such as sundews and butterwort, and they are nesting habitats for our beloved sandhill cranes.

Nearshore Foundation Species

Ecologists call the margin between the land and sea the “nearshore.” The nearshore stretches from the high tide line down to about thirty meters depth. The nearshore is arguably the richest strip of life in the ocean. Particularly important in the nearshore are the so-called “foundation species.” These are the species that create habitat for the complex web of species that depend on them. Like the terrestrial forests and grasslands, the macrophytes–seaweeds, kelps, seagrasses—but also invertebrate species like mussels, support very diverse communities in the intertidal margins. Any changes to these foundation species would have profound effects on biodiversity.


The biodiversity of the Central Coast is remarkable, and it is well represented on Calvert Island–marine mammals, bald eagles, etc., etc. Two charismatic species stand out, and if you keep your eyes and ears open, you may see or hear them. These are our coastal wolves—de facto marine mammals—and our sandhill cranes. Listen for the haunting howls of the wolves and the calls of the cranes that remind you that their lineage goes back to the age of the pterodactyls. Even if all you see are footprints on the beach, you’ll feel their presence. Biogeography nerds may be interested in our mink; they’ve been isolated on the island for millennia, and perhaps because we have no martens, the mink have become abnormally large. But biodiversity is everywhere, right down to the microscopic level. Look at tidal pools; look under our docks; look at mosses and lichens that form complex communities that are as rich as our forests.