Woodstream Park receives some TLC

At first glance, there doesn't appear to be much life in Departure Creek near Woodstream Park.

Look a little closer – maybe under some rocks, along the shore under some branches or near some submerged or logs – and you'll find crayfish, good-sized cutthroat trout, coho fry and many other aquatic creatures working hard to survive.

Last year, a run of about 150 pink salmon returned to the river to spawn for the first time in recent memory.

It hasn't always been this way. For decades, Departure Creek was devoid of most aquatic life due to development, pollution and a general misunderstanding of the ecosystem. A small dam, detrimental to fish movement in the stream, was removed last year as a first step to improving the stream.

A partnership of the Pacific Salmon Foundation, Harbour City River Stewards, DFO, and the city is working to ensure the stream once again is home to a thriving ecosystem for generations to come.

"The stream is still under stress," said Jean Michel Hanssens, spokesman for the Harbour City River Stewards and project manager. "Our goal isn't to necessarily attract any specific type of fish. It's to restore the habitat overall and provide a healthy environment for all species here, including the vegetation along the shoreline and other animals."

Recently, an otter was spotted along the creek, as well as two barred owls.

"They're signs it's getting healthier. We're here to help that along," said Hanssens.

On Thursday afternoon, work began to further improve fish habitat on the lower part of the creek, just below the bridge at the Woodstream Park entrance.

Project biologist Jeramy Damborg of the B.C. Conservation Foundation, third year Vancouver Island University biologist Katie Davidson and Hanssens were pole seining the lower part of the creek to trap fish and relocate them to areas higher up the stream bed, away from areas where work will take place.

That will enable the team to prepare for a habitat enhancement project that will include the construction of rock grade control riffles, improved spawning gravel and the introduction of more habitat, such as large woody debris and more rocks, similar to the salmon channel at Bowen Park but on a smaller scale.

The restoration project is a shared goal of both the city and the Departure Bay Neighborhood Association and is outlined in each organization's respective official plans. In an effort to reduce shoreline erosion and encourage plant life along the shore, the DBNA has planted several saplings and, in partnership with the city, erected a split rail in Woodstream Park to discourage further shoreline erosion.

"We want to make the park still as accessible as possible but at the same time, limit further damage," said Hanssens. "Everything is tied together. Vegetation, water quality and habitat all have to work together to result in revitalization."

As part of the project, city crews will temporarily divert the lower part of the stream and excavate as much of the sediment as possible that has collected over time, replacing it with spawning gravel.

A VIU team will assess water quality, and DFO is funding a coho fry survey, performed by biologist Charles Thirkill, to establish base line data to assist in properly assessing and monitoring the salmonid population in the creek.

The immediate work is expected to be completed within the next week, in time for the pinks to return upstream again to spawn. But Hanssens said it is the beginning of a three-year process that will see Departure Creek rehabilitated as far upstream as possible.

"One of the reasons why many of us live here is because of resources like this," he said. "It's amazing we have places like this right in the middle of an urban centre, there aren't many places that do. So it's important to look after it, protect it and improve it not only for the ecosystem but for the neighbourhood that surrounds it."

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