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Largest Estuary Restoration Project on Vancouver Island starts work to revitalize crucial estuarine habitat

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by ahnationtalk on June 6, 202366 Views

COWICHAN, British Columbia, June 06, 2023 — Today, The Nature Trust of British Columbia (NTBC), in partnership with Cowichan Tribes, Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC), Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, Ministry of Forests, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation announced plans to restore and revitalize 70 hectares of estuarine marshlands along the Cowichan River Estuary on Vancouver Island.

The Cowichan Estuary Restoration Project is the largest estuary restoration project to ever occur on Vancouver Island, aiming to restore vitally important estuary habitat and enhance estuary resilience against rising sea-levels. The project will rejuvenate habitat crucial for the survival of key fish and wildlife species, including wild Pacific Salmon, migratory and breeding birds as well as species-at-risk.

The project will involve the combined removal of over 2 km of dikes at Dinsdale Farm and Koksilah Marsh, the creation of intertidal channels and salt marsh habitat, the restoration of marine riparian and flood fringe forests, and the reconnection of areas that have been historically cut off from tidal influence.

Estuaries are incredibly diverse ecosystems that thrive in a narrow band of elevation and represent the critical areas where the nutrients from the marine and terrestrial environments mix. This nutrient rich environment plays a crucial role in the life cycle of fish, crabs, shellfish, migratory and breeding birds. Estuaries are also powerful carbon sinks with sediments capable of capturing carbon ten times as quickly as forest soils. Local communities benefit from ecosystem services that estuaries provide, such as pollutant filtration and storm surge mitigation.

This project is the culmination of a rich legacy of partnerships amongst conservation agencies and Cowichan Tribes. Beginning in 1985, NTBC, DUC, and partners in the Pacific Estuary Conservation Program, began a campaign to set aside, manage and restore as much of the estuary landscape as possible and have worked closely with Cowichan Tribes and other community partners in stewarding these lands and implementing several restoration and monitoring projects.

Since 2018, the partners have collaborated in implementing an in-depth monitoring program to assess the resilience of the Cowichan/Koksilah estuary to sea level rise, and have worked with consultants on extensive modeling and assessments of the impacts of the historic dike and river training within the estuary. Based on the results of this work, a decision was made by all of the partners to implement the Cowichan Estuary Restoration Project to focus on overall ecosystem health and resilience of the estuary.

The Cowichan Estuary Restoration Project is funded by the BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund (BC SRIF), a contribution program funded jointly by DFO and the Province of BC, DFO’s Aquatic Ecosystems Restoration Fund (AERF), and Cowichan Tribes through the Aquatic Habitat Restoration Fund (AHRF). Thank you to our funders and partners for their dedication and commitment to conservation. We are honoured and grateful for your collaboration and support. The project’s development has also included a Technical/Scientific Advisory Committee composed of leading nearshore scientists from British Columbia and the United States National Estuary Research Reserve System (NERRS).

For more information on the project, visit to learn more.


Thomas Reid, West Coast Conservation Land Management Program Manager shares, “Estuaries are the heart of our coastal landscape and are among the most productive ecosystems on earth. Although they only make up 2.3% of B.C.’s coastline, they support more than 80% of our wildlife, birds, and fish. Sadly, the climate crisis and human activities are threatening their vital processes putting habitat and surrounding communities at risk. This project is an essential step towards restoration of the Cowichan Estuary to conserve biodiversity and protect local communities, now and in the future.”

Partner Quotes

Larry George (Smaalthun) Director Lulumexun – Lands and Self Governance Department, Cowichan Tribes shares, “The Quw’utsun Mustimuhw (Cowichan People) have long been stewards of the lands and waters. We have witnessed the changes in our estuary over time, which have had a dramatic impact on our resources. Cowichan Tribes aims to contribute to the management of our traditional territory through habitat restoration and monitoring of this important ecosystem. We look forward to seeing this important work continue, and to keep our territory thriving for future generations.”

Dr. Jasper Lament, Chief Executive Officer at The Nature Trust of BC shares, ”We are grateful to be working with our partners on this crucial restoration project. Estuaries are environmental and ecological powerhouses and the wellbeing of our coastal ecosystems and wildlife depend on them. Our collective work will restore salt marsh habitats and estuarine processes which will not only benefit the species within the estuary, but nearby communities. Collaboration is key and together we can revitalize the Cowichan Estuary to ensure that it is able to flourish in perpetuity, for the benefit of fish, wildlife, and people.

Nathan Cullen, Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship shares, “We are delighted to collaborate on this project to restore the natural estuarine marshlands in the Cowichan Estuary. Our government is committed to the sustainable management and protection of water resources in B.C., , and this project aligns perfectly with our goals. By restoring the natural marshland, we are enhancing the ecological health of this important ecosystem and improving the water quality of the surrounding areas. This project will set an excellent example for the preservation of Canada’s aquatic ecosystems, and we are proud to be a part of it. We look forward to continuing our collaborative efforts and seeing the positive impact of this project on the Cowichan Estuary and the communities that rely on it.”

Sarah Nathan, Manager, Provincial Operations, B.C. at Ducks Unlimited shares, “At Ducks Unlimited Canada we have been conserving wetlands and other natural spaces for waterfowl, wildlife, and people for 85 years. The restoration efforts at the Cowichan Estuary will ensure vital habitat can continue to support waterfowl as they rest over winter on their migratory path, a large range of fish and other wildlife for generations to come, while also advancing local climate resilience against rising sea-levels. We are proud to work with our partners to protect these essential ecosystems and the species that depend on them.”

Linda Higgins, South Coast Area Director Fisheries and Oceans Canada shares, “The importance of estuaries for the health of our oceans cannot be overstated. We are thrilled to partner with local organizations and communities to restore over 70 hectares of natural estuarine marshlands in the Cowichan Estuary. This project aligns with our commitment to protect and restore Canada’s aquatic ecosystems, and we are proud to contribute to the preservation of this vital habitat for a diverse range of marine species. Through collaborative efforts, we believe this project will not only restore the estuary’s ecological balance but also provide long-lasting benefits for the communities that rely on it. We look forward to seeing the positive impact of this project on the Cowichan Estuary and the surrounding areas.”

Darcy C. Henderson PhD, Head, Stewardship Unit Canadian Wildlife Service Environment & Climate Change Canada shares, ”Climate change and environmental degradation are some of the greatest challenges of our time, and it is essential that we work together to protect our natural habitats and the biodiversity they support. The revitalization of estuaries in British Columbia is critical to providing a habitat for animals, aiding in climate change adaptation, and offering environmental benefits. Climate change and biodiversity loss are tightly entwined and by restoring these essential ecosystems, we are not only mitigating the effects of climate change but also protecting the region’s diverse wildlife and ensuring their survival. We believe this project is a significant step towards a more sustainable future, and we are proud to be a part of it.”

Dan Buffett, CEO, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation shares, “At the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, we invest in the future of British Columbia’s fish, wildlife, and their habitats. With over 80% of BC’s coastal fish and wildlife dependent on estuaries for their survival, the protection and restoration of these vital ecosystems are critical. Through partnership and collaborative projects such as the Cowichan estuary, we support improving estuary resilience against climate change and other negative impacts.”

Cowichan Valley Regional District Board shares, “The CVRD is excited to see this important restoration work commencing in the Cowichan Estuary. Not only will this project restore critical fish and wildlife habitat, it will also build resiliency to adapt to our changing climate and extreme weather events. This project is key to assisting the Cowichan region in meeting Cowichan Watershed Board targets for the health of this estuary and contributes to the overall regional vision of a vibrant economy and diverse natural environment. We recognize the efforts of Nature Trust, the Province of BC, Cowichan Tribes and partners who have worked diligently in the design and implementation of this project and will work closely with them to ensure its long term success.”


History of the project

  • Beginning in 1985, the Nature Trust of BC, Ducks Unlimited Canada, and partners in the Pacific Estuary Conservation Program launched a campaign to set aside and restore as much of the Cowichan Estuary landscape as possible. Through a combination of land purchases, donations, and covenants, and with the support of the Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Plan, much of the estuary is now protected.
  • The areas of the Cowichan Restoration Project (Dinsdale Farm, Koksilah Marsh) were acquired between 1985 and 1990. The management focus for these lands was to actively manage agriculture for the benefit of migratory waterfowl.
  • Since 2018, the partners have collaborated in implementing an in-depth monitoring program to assess the resilience of the Cowichan/Koksilah estuary to sea level rise, and have worked with consultants on extensive modeling and assessments of the impacts of the historic dike and river training within the estuary. Based on the results of this work, a decision was made by all of the partners to implement the Cowichan Estuary Restoration Project to focus on overall ecosystem health and resilience of the estuary.

About partners

About The Nature Trust of British Columbia
The Nature Trust of British Columbia is a leading non-profit land conservation organization with over 50 years of success protecting and caring for B.C.’s most critical habitats. Since 1971, The Nature Trust of BC and its partners have acquired more than 73,000 hectares (180,000 acres) of ecologically significant land to save vulnerable wildlife, fish and plants.

Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF)
For over 40 years, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF) has provided grants to a large network of recipients who undertake conservation projects each year. With support from HCTF, a wide range of nonprofit organizations, First Nations and Indigenous communities, Provincial ministries, and community groups implement projects that protect and restore B.C.’s wildlife, freshwater fish, and their habitats. Since 1981, the HCTF has funded over 3,550 projects representing an investment of over $215 million for conservation in B.C.

Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC)
Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) is a leading conservation organization committed to conserving wetlands and associated habitats across Canada. Founded in 1938, DUC has a rich history and a deep understanding of the vital role that wetlands play in maintaining biodiversity, mitigating climate change, and providing essential ecosystem services. With a science-based approach and a collaborative mindset, DUC works tirelessly to protect, restore, and manage wetlands, ensuring they continue to support waterfowl, wildlife, and communities. Through strategic land acquisition, habitat restoration projects, and partnerships with various stakeholders, DUC has conserved millions of acres of wetlands, contributing to the overall health and resilience of Canada’s natural landscapes. With a strong emphasis on education, research, and community engagement, DUC strives to inspire and empower individuals to take action in conserving wetlands, making a lasting impact for generations to come.

Cowichan Estuary Restoration Project


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