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Transcript for Digging Up the Dirt on Dunes: Adventures of a Parks Canada Student

On the west coast of Vancouver Island lies Pacific Rim National Park Reserve Known for its stunning natural beauty and biological diversity, it remains one of Canada's crown jewels of environmental conservation.

Home to a number of rare and unique wildlife, this park spans over 500 square kilometres of lush temperate rainforest, windswept dunes, dynamic shores, and serene waters surrounding a multitude of islands.

Pacific Rim is a world-renown destination for incredible hiking, surfing, kayaking and outdoor adventure.

But unknown to many is the ongoing ecological monitoring taking place in the park, where scientists are restoring some of Canada’s most sensitive ecosystems threatened by human disturbance This summer I was fortunate enough to assist park staff with their monitoring projects, getting a behind the scenes glimpse at their work as well as experiencing the wonders of this national park first hand.

Through my work as a summer student I was able to explore Pacific Rim and learn about how Parks Canada is protecting important pieces of our natural and cultural heritage.

This is the story of the dune restoration project.

This past summer I worked with the Dune Restoration team at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve a team of scientists dedicated to restoring the dune ecosystem of Long Beach back to its original state.

In 2008, the park set out to restore the sand dune ecosystems which had been overrun by the invasive European beach grass for more than 50 years.

As a result of this invasive species, Ammophila, sand no longer moved freely throughout the dunes, and the encroaching forest threatened the dune ecosystem.

The dunes host a wide variety of rare and endangered species and so it's a very important habitat.

There are very few dunes left in British Columbia partly because of Ammophila and human development.

Like many invasive species, European Beachgrass is very resilient and can survive in harsh conditions making it difficult to control.

Any little broken fragment can float around in the ocean for years, come up on a beach plant itself and within five years be acres.

And just the tiniest bit like that can form a root that goes 4 metres down, traps sand and creates a whole colony just like that.

The first step of the restoration required an excavator to dig up large swaths of deep-rooted Ammophila.

And with the help of volunteers, Parks Canada is able to prevent much of the regrowth of this invasive species.

So we’ve had 123 volunteers this year alone put in over 800 hours and we’ve been able to manage the re-growth so far of those areas that we’ve done.

That’s a huge number of plants in a huge area we’re talking acres that have been maintained by volunteers.

And it’s a beautiful place to working we have a view of the ocean we can watch the whales while we work and sea lions.

Scientists are able to determine how much Ammophila is being removed because of the use of mapping and GIS.

And by tracking even the smallest changes I realized just how dynamic dune ecosystems are.

Every day, things look a little bit different and even in just a few years of park monitoring and volunteer support, there have been incredible changes, with almost 85% of the dunes restored.

With the dunes restored, species at risk like Pink sand-verbena have a better chance at surviving.

This endangered plant was last seen in Canada in 2001 on the West Coast Trail.

From the seeds of the last two remaining plants found in Canada over 2000 pink sand verbena have been reintroduced to save the species from the brink of extinction.

For the planting of pink-sand verbena the restoration team headed to Keeha Beach in the West Coast Trail Unit of the national park.

On Keeha Beach, we planted nearly 300 pink sand-verbena and on Long Beach another 800.

This also entailed many hours of watering and monitoring to ensure they survive in the fragile dune environment.

Another native species that's thriving due to restoration efforts is yellow sand-verbena.

An exciting challenge this summer was to search for the elusive sand-verbena moth an endangered species that only feeds on the yellow sand verbena For all stages of the moth's life, this plant is its whole world.

For 6 weeks this summer, I convinced some volunteers to hike out to the dunes in the dark and search for this mysterious moth.

That looks like it!

That might be it, that actually might be it.

After this video was taken we received confirmation that the moth found was indeed a sand-verbena moth the first sighting at Pacific Rim, and only the fourth location in Canada.

The biggest reward of solving this mystery is that now yellow sand-verbena becomes critical habitat for this endangered moth.

Being designated critical habitat ensures that the dunes will continue to be an important piece in the ongoing ecological monitoring at national parks.

Parks can no longer take for granted that simply drawing a line and providing protection for ecological elements within an area is a guarantee of protection and maintenance of those ecological elements.

In that way, we have to monitor constantly what it is that’s going on in the park in terms of the ecosystem, in terms of species.

All of this work would remain a mystery to the public if it were not for park staff who educate visitors and volunteers about the dunes.

Overall I think education for the wild places is important.

One of the things I do on my dune walk is near the end of the walk I invite children young and old, to go up and roll down the dunes.

Make people connect with the place because if they start to care then there is a future for protected places.

Some of my favourite moments have been really simple moments just sitting down and pulling grass with some volunteers while they were learning how to do it.

And they’d be saying, ‘this is so great, this is so amazing, look at what you guys are doing.

Just the enthusiasm of volunteers and also other staff members that I work with out here has just been really addictive and really keeps me motivated on the project.

This is a disappearing place.

The dunes, if we do nothing, will be gone.

We figured these dunes would be completely closed up within 30 years and they would have been dead.

All these species would have disappeared.

And we know that everything is improving and we see the enthusiasm of everyone noticing.

The experience of being in the dunes… that’s going to stick.

From my time at Pacific Rim, I learned that connecting people with nature is an integral part of the ongoing restoration work on the dunes and in the national park We need conservation in order for visitors to experience national parks.

I feel connected to this park because I've had the privilege of experiencing it in many ways.

Even though my summer is ending at the park I'm hopeful that my contribution here will leave a lasting impact for years to come just as I know my experiences here will leave a lasting impact on me.

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