False Creek Oyster Survey – Boat & Walking Tour

False Creek Oyster Survey – Boat & Walking Tour

Report by Janet Snell & Joan Lopez

False Creek © Chris Harley

On Sunday, April 23, a boat and walking tour of False Creek was held for a group of twenty Nature Vancouver Oyster Survey volunteers. Our special guest was Chris Harley, a UBC Marine Ecology professor. We are excited to be doing this project with support from a BC Naturalist Foundation Club grant. We are also working closely with False Creek Friends Society with the boat tour made possible by Zaida Schneider who piloted the boat and Kira Leeb, also of FCFS.

Our original working group of six has been joined by many new volunteers and we chose this special outing as an orientation and information session for our project. So many people signed up to participate that we split the group in two with one group led by Joan Lopez starting with the boat tour and the other group walking the shoreline with Janet Snell leading the tour of oyster bed sites. We all started at Heather Marina and then met at the Granville Island dock to exchange modes of transportation back to our starting point.

Pacific Oysters © Caroline Penn (Left), © Chris Harley (Right)

Walking Tour – Janet Snell

The tour began under grey and threatening skies, but our mood was one of excitement and anticipation. The tour was scheduled to coincide with a very low tide for optimum oyster viewing and our first stop was at Heather Marina where many oysters are clustered on the rocks near the seawall. This was the perfect location to discuss the differences between Pacific oysters, a non-native, plentiful species, and the native Olympia oysters which are much rarer. So far, we have only spotted the Pacific species. 

Oyster colony at Heather Marina © Janet Snell

As we walked along the seawall, the number of oysters decreased and then reappeared sporadically in smaller oyster reefs. Another large bed was visited where we could get down to the beach easily and see the different substrates the oysters settled on. Many were joined in clumps together, other lay singly on the sand/mud beach. Fewer were competing with mussels on large boulders.  Along the way, there was much discussion as to why the oyster colonies were in certain areas; is the substrate that they are growing on? The exposure to water current and food availability? The light exposure? We are hoping that our survey will provide the data to help answer these questions. 

© Caroline Penn

Nearing the end of our walking tour at Granville Island, we were delighted to see other diverse marine life alongside the oyster colonies. There were several large schools of small fish, possibly anchovies, clustered in tight groups very close to the shore. A Pelagic cormorant was repeatedly diving into the fish balls to come up with a silvery meal. It seemed oblivious to our presence on the dock only a few feet away while it made good use of the feast. 

Another surprise was to see gloriously shaggy Opalescent/horned nudibranchs beside the dock with some feasting upside down below the water surface. Ochre sea stars, small jellyfish and Dungeness crabs were seen as well. More questions were asked – Could this biodiversity be the result of improving water quality in False Creek? And is the water quality already being helped by filter feeders such as the many oysters that were seen. And finally, what can we do to help the oysters re-establish in more locations of False Creek. We look forward to exploring these questions more and more.

(Left) Nudibranch ©Masha Levene – (Right) Ochre Sea Star © John Martin

(Left) Pelagic Cormorant © Chris Harley – (Right) Eager photographers © Janet Snell

Boat Tour Joan Lopez

Following a short briefing on the features of Zaida’s impressive Nordic Tug, the first boat tour group of eight clambered aboard. We got settled for the tour of False Creek, with half the group on the upper deck and the remainder on the lower back deck to take in the views. We made our way eastbound, under the Cambie Street Bridge, and made the first stop at Habitat Island. With the tide nearing the lowest level of the day, the expansive lower intertidal area was visible, and impressive masses of oysters could be seen, along with mussels and rockweed. Gulls and crows were foraging amongst the shells.  

Zaida Giving the Safety Talk © Caroline Penn

The tour continued east, and then crossed over to the north side of False Creek near the former Plaza of Nations site. During construction of this area, large boulders and concrete slabs were dropped into the water. Unfortunately, the water was not clear enough to see down to the oyster reef that had formed on the boulders. Zaida helpfully shared his iPad with an underwater video, filmed during the 2022 False Creek Bioblitz, that clearly showed the oyster reef directly below us.  (see the video at https://youtu.be/EUYp4cZ6T5I)

Passing under the Cambie Bridge again, we proceeded past the Quaywest Marina, pointing out the area where oysters had set up between the dock and the seawall. Oysters either like marinas, or they like the same habitat that marinas favour. Crossing back to the south side of False Creek, we popped into a small bay just off Charleson Park. On the slope down to the water’s edge, more oysters were visible at the tide line. Another zig-zag across the “creek” brought us to a bay off David Lam Park. Here, Zaida explained that this was a no-anchor zone, intended at one time to be developed as a potential swimming beach. The swimmers did not come, but with no anchorages, this could be enhanced as oyster habitat.  

Following the north shore of False Creek, our trusty boat continued toward the Granville and Burrard Bridges, areas notable for several marinas, and in places, shorelines hardened by the seawall. There are some overhangs on pilings that could be considered for oyster enhancement.  

Once past the Burrard Bridge, the north shore features several sandy beach areas, interspersed by boulder outcrops.   The official western extent of False Creek is the Inukshuk on the north side, and Kitsilano Point on the south side. Here, the influence of greater wave action from English Bay was evident with the boulders appearing more scoured. The south shore also features more beach area, more marinas, boat ramps, the Coast Guard Station and a fuel dock, making most areas unlikely habitat for oysters or enhancement.   

Our tour concluded at Granville Island where we disembarked and thanked our captain, Zaida. The group that had walked the shoreline now had their turn for a boating adventure.   

For more information on the project, visit our webpage at http://naturevancouver.ca/conservation/false-creek-oyster-survey/

False Creek Friends Society’s Boat © Janet Snell

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