Race Rocks Marine Protected Area Update May 6 2001

Racerocks.com continues to reach to the far corners of the world as more and more people become aware of this extraordinary ecosystem and the opportunity to discover it electronically.(over 100,000 visitors in the past year) Garry Fletcher, our Educational Director, has attended conferences in New York, California (twice) and in the near future plans to go to Halifax. In each case we have featured live webcasts from Race Rocks with video from both above and below the surface to the conference site. On March 17, 2001 we completed the first underwater webcast in which in addition to video one of our student divers spoke directly to the conference participants from underwater at Race Rocks. This was possible thanks to a fabulous, locally developed, wireless underwater communications system created by Divelink.

A wireless internet feed from Race Rocks is now possible for eco-tourism vessels in the MPA. Visitors to the MPA can now establish wireless internet access aboard their vessel from most locations within the MPA. This allows guides to download real time video streams showing activity in the MPA including underwater video from the display tanks on the island. In addition, visitors can have access to archived video of marine life, First Nation’s activities and more recent history stored on the Race Rocks server. If you are interested in more information about the equipment required and how you could subscribe to this service please contact Angus Matthews.

Eco-guardians Mike and Carol Slater continue to do an outstanding job for us all as our resident caretakers of the island and equipment. We are grateful to Mike and Carol for their dedication and commitment to Race Rocks and it’s many residents. It is also reassuring to know that their watchful eyes are always looking out for us.
Should you need to contact them they are usually monitoring VHF 16 or 68.

Site restoration has continued on the island over the winter. In late April the Coast Guard finished flying out the last of the concrete from the dykes that surrounded the old tank farm. This has returned another large portion of the island to a natural state. We are working with BC Parks to establish a plant life inventory of Great Race Island. We have modified the Coast Guard’s old lawn mowing compulsion to allow more of the natural grasses and vegetation to take over the island. A small perimeter is maintained around the buildings for fire safety and Mike and Carol of course maintain their traditional kitchen garden.

BC Parks has assumed ownership of the area of Great Race Island that was previously leased to the Coast Guard. A small area around the light tower and solar panels has been retained by the Coast Guard as they are still responsible for the automated navigational aids. All the remaining infrastructure on the island has been given over to BC Parks. Pearson College has entered into a 30 year park use permit agreement with BC Parks to continue to operate the facility as we have for the past four years.

Serious financial challenges lie ahead. Now that the federal Millennium Partnership funding that established racerocks.com has been exhausted we are receiving no financial support for the operation of the Race Rocks MPA from any government. We are hopeful that BC Parks and DFO which established the MPA will respond positively to our application for them to provide a contribution of $50,000 each towards operating costs. Pearson College has undertaken to raise the balance required to cover the $150,000 annual budget. We hope that the eco-tourism industry will consider assisting us in the future as a demonstration of the commitment you have to environmental protection and Canada’s first Marine Protected Area. See $ave Race Rock$

Please excuse our questionable flag etiquette! One of the pitfalls of joint federal/provincial jurisdiction is they both want their label on the product. At the request of our current MLA we are now flying both the BC and Canadian flag on the same mast on the island. Until the funding arrangements are worked out it is simply prudent to do so!

The special operational guidelines for Race Rocks established by the eco-tourism operators have been largely respected and we greatly appreciate the individual commitment vessel operators have made to following them. We are now working on better cooperation from other organisations such as the Navy and education of the general public. Our proceedure is to log all infractions and contact the operator or their owner directly to advise them of a difficulty. The level of cooperation and voluntary compliance from the eco-tourim sector has been outstanding and we appreciate it a great deal.

Operator training for the 2001 season is now occurring in many eco-tourism organisations. Many of your operators have received special training about the MPA in the past. If the number of new operators warrants it, we have offered to host a training session ashore at Race Rocks in the near future. Please contact Dan Kukat if you think this is necessary.

Marine life at the Race features several elephant seals again this year and the sea lion/ harbour seal population looks fairly strong for the time of year. Already a number of harbour seal pups have been born, and this emphasizes the need for cautious navigation through the area as they are very vulnerable. Serious bird nesting activity is starting so our activity on the island and access is now being limited. Chick survival on the island was very poor last year largely due to what appeared to be starvation. Hopefully more of the usual food sources will return this year.

We look forward to another successful season of protection and education at the Race. Thank you for all you do to share this experience with an appreciative public.

Angus Matthews

Director of Administration and Special Projects, Lester Pearson College