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Seal pup born on shores of B.C. navy base, touted as sign of successful remediation

Wildlife has been returning over the past few years as the Esquimalt Harbour cleanup has progressed

Staff at CFB Esquimalt are rejoicing after a seal pup was born on the banks of the harbour and are touting it as proof the jetty remediation program is working.

Environmental officers came across the seal mother, having given birth to the pup on July 21 on the shores of Esquimalt harbour near the base, on ground where a marine railway used to stand.

“It’s an area that was heavily contaminated, and we spent some effort removing all the contamination and putting back some clean material,” said Mike Bodman, the base safety and environment manager at CFB Esquimalt.

“It was kind of nice to see some of the areas that we’ve rehabilitated being used by things like seals to complete parts of their life cycle.”

Bodman said the seal birth is one of several signs they’ve had of wildlife returning to the harbour over the past few years, including sightings of grey whales, orcas, increased numbers of shrimp and fish, and most notably, a spawning of Pacific herring, something Bodman said hasn’t been since on the base since the 1950s.

“It’s hard to measure to really prove that the harbour is getting better, but definitely anecdotally, it’s looking on the upswing.”

The harbour has undergone extensive cleanup work since the project was started in 2005 when the 15-year Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan was established.

The harbour was first used as a shipping yard in the 1840s when the British navy arrived, and the remediation project aims to clear up the waste left behind by the “poor past practices” of workers there, said Bodman.

So far, the remediation project has cleaned up 12 of the most contaminated sites in the harbour, with four more set to be tackled in the next few years.

Bodman said there are also plans in the works for a spin-off project that will focus on tackling the wood waste left behind by a sawmill on the north side of Esquimalt harbour, to start in 2025. In other areas, the harbour has recovered its kelp growth on several constructed marine reefs, which will help increase fish numbers.

Bodman said there are challenges of the busy nature of the waterway with shipping and other municipalities nearby. Climate change and rising sea levels will challenge remediation and species recovery.

As more of the work is completed, the base will pivot to its monitoring program to more accurately count how wildlife is faring in the harbour over the next five to 10 years.

“It’s probably too soon to tell, but for the work we’re doing – definitely, a lot of the harbour was impacted by past activities. I think we’ve been doing a good job of remedying that and helping to give Mother Nature the best shot at being a productive environment for all the people and for fish and wildlife to be successful.”

READ MORE: Crafty sailor remembered at CFB Esquimalt museum for his resourcefulness


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