Guidelines for Human Activities in and around the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve

2. Recent DFO Notice:
3. Access by Technology:
4. Flexibility of Permissible activities due to Season:
5. Ecologically Sensitive Time Periods
6. Times for Island Access with the least Impact:

7. Regulations for Using the Marine Centre
8. Other Files relating to Human Interaction

1. INTRODUCTION: As is the case with most guidelines, common sense should be the guiding principle. At Race Rocks we aim to restrict any activity which causes birds and mammals unnecessary disturbance . Movement means extra energy expenditure, and this means extra stress for food gathering and territorial activities. It has been our observation over the years that people with the best of intentions will often compromise the well being of an animal in order to get closer or to get a better picture. There must be an effort made to educate the public that this is not a good thing for the animals. Due to the unpredictability of the activities and locations of animal haulouts or nesting, the advice of the island ecoguardian should always be sought before access to the islands.

The underlying premise of these guidelines is that they provide the best chances for ecological integrity and the maximum opportunity for this Ecological Reserve to be ecologically sustainable for the long run.

2. NOTICE to BOATERS and ANGLERS in the vicinity of Race Rocks — DFO 2009

Fisheries and Oceans Canada requests that boaters and anglers take the following steps to protect the abundant and diverse marine life at the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve:
Race Rocks is a haul out location for a variety of marine mammals (seals and sea lions), some of which will give birth and raise their young there. To avoid injury to marine mammals in the water and disturbing them on the rocks the following guidelines are requested to be followed:

    • Slow to 7 knots or less within 400 metres of the rocks surrounding Great Race Rock, West Race Rock, North Race Rock and Rosedale Rock.
    • Do not approach closer than 100 metres to any marine mammal, including those on the rocks.
    • Do not pass through the narrow shallow passage to the south of Great Race Rocks.  As well as being dangerous for running agrouynd, it inevitably disturbs birds and seals and sealions. Seals ofte train their young in that passage as well and these young ones are easily hit by boats as they sleep on the surface.

Not following these guidelines, or the Be Whale Wise Marine Guidelines for Boaters, Paddlers and Viewers (Revised 2006), may constitute a violation of the Marine Mammal Regulations. Violators face potential fines of up to $100,000.

Your cooperation with these guidelines and regulations will help maintain the biodiversity of the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve.
Updated Fishing Regulations can be found at
The Be Whale Wise boater education program is available online at

With the presence of the technology made possible by the project, remote access to the island for viewing and for research is easier and will continue to improve as the system of environmental sensors is deployed. In addition, the three phones now available on the island through this project, make it possible to have easy contact with the island guardians in order to determine suitable times for access .

4. FLEXIBILITY OF PERMISSIBLE ACTIVITIES DUE TO SEASONS: The level of mammal and bird activity on the terrestrial part of Race Rocks is a characteristic feature of the islands that has to be carefully considered for proper management of the area. Due to the impossibility of predicting exactly the times when disturbance is likely from human activities on and around the islands, the following guidelines are recommended. It is to be recognized that permission of the resident guardians to access the island is necessary in all circumstances.
Contact Lester Pearson College to make arrangements.

1. April and May: Limited access for research and education through the areas where gulls are establishing territories. Human presence at this time has not in the past deterred them from nesting. Where there are Black Oyster Catchers nesting there should however be restricted access. Some of these locations change each year, so the advice of the island guardians about the location of any on land activity must be sought.

2. May 15- June 15 , beyond the pathways, restricted access by permission of the island guardians only . Gulls have established nests, so no access should occur in those areas. Black Oyster Catchers have young at this time, those areas must be avoided.

3. June 15-August 25 is the most sensitive time on the islands. Harbour seals are having pups, the mothers are very wary and rush to the water at the least provocation. Approach of boats and docking should be done carefully and allowed by the island guardians only if it does not interfere with baby seals in the dock area. Boat traffic should not be permitted in the channel on the South side of the tower.

4. August to December: In the years 1997, 1998, and 1999, California and Northern sealion haulouts have been at a maximum on Great Race Rocks during this period. They have occupied the area from the North West corner across the North side, around the winch House and over to the West bay beside the docks. Also, the area down on the lawn to the East of the main house, and the rocks behind on the South West corner, up to the lawn by the science house. Boat access at the docks at this time causes some disturbance in the dock area, however this area has to be kept clear of sea lions because of the location of the water intake. Activity around the buildings and on the pathways causes no disturbance, however, access to other areas should be restricted if there are animals present in those areas.

In this time there is much feeding activity in the waters around the islands. At times , flocks of up to 1000 Gulls of several species are present. Efforts should be made to restrict all but essential boat traffic through the passage in front of the docks when birds are present. On an ebb tide, flocks of Pigeon Guillemots are also frequently feeding in the area on the North side of the docks and drifting thorough the channel. Efforts should be made to avoid their disturbance at these times.

5. February to April: In 2009, the first elephant seal pups were born on the main island and on the middle island of Race Rocks. Caution must be exercised in approaching the areas where they are pupping. When the pups are weaned they enter the water after several weeks of fasting and are particularly vulnerable to collision with vessels. The adults are also slow moving when near the islands and may be hit by a motor boat as they lay at the surface. See the file on Slash for an example:

6. In general access by groups of people should be discouraged through the most sensitive times, from mid May through to late August. In this time, educational activities, field trips etc. are best pursued elsewhere or by using the existing technology of Exceptions may be made where classes can make a significant contribution to research if it is possible only with no disturbance to the nesting marine birds. In that event, it will be done under a research permit.

7. Research or photography should only be allowed by a small number of individuals at one time . It will be allowed only if there is no impact on the resident or migrant animals.


January to the end of April: Although there are no times of the year when there are no animals on the islands, this time offers the best time for island access, since there is the least animal activity on Great Race Island. Activities requiring the use of helicopter transport, if necessary at all, should be restricted to this time of the year

Boat Access:
There is a concern that boat access around the island can jeopardize the integrity of parts of the reserve. In particular, the area of the cliff beneath the helipad where the cormorants roost should be well off limits for boat approach. Boats should use the center of the channel only in that location. These birds take flight easily and when eggs are left exposed, it leads to predation by crows and seagulls. In the 2000 season the nests were completely abandoned, possibly from boat disturbance.
Other areas which are sensitive are the seal pupping areas from June to August. In particular, the channel to the South of the tower must be off limits to boats. Harbour seals are spooked at any time of the year when kayaks approach.

7. Using the Marine Centre

8. Other Files Relating to Human Impact and Environmental Disturbance in the Ecological Reserve.