Posted 01 September 2011, by Yasmin Aboelsaud (Special to the Westerly News), Canada.com (Postmedia Network Inc.), canada.com
Professors and students from the University of the Fraser Valley are spending eight days in Clayoqout Sound as part of an intensive ecosystem course hosted at the Tofino Botanical Gardens field station in Tofino.
The course is called the Clayoqout Biosphere Immersion, and it was first taught four years ago.
“I love this area so much and I really wanted to introduce students to something that I think is amazing and needs to continue to be protected. There’s no better way to do that than education,” said Dr. Allan Arndt, biology professor.
Arndt said that when students think of visiting pristine environments, they think of exotic overseas destinations.
“They have no ideas what amazing ecological setting they have in their own backyard.”
The course exposes the senior university students to a maritime ecosystem, First Nations culture, and teaches them about some of the socioeconomic and environmental issues in the area.
“It really enriches our educational spectrum,” said Arndt, adding that some of the students had never visited the West Coast before the trip.
“I think the nice thing about Tofino is it offers an opportunity to cover not only intertidal, but forest ecosystem, the bogs, and we can teach more than intertidal zone. It really exposes them to the whole spectrum of field work in biology,” said professor Pat Harrison.
As part of each course visit, the students study and identify species at specific locations.
Arndt said over time, the data can show how things are changing. They plan to share the results with the local community.
The course also includes a field-sampling examination of the diverse inhabitants in mud flats.
On one of their course days, Dr. Jonathan Hughes, biogeography professor, led the students on a morning exploration in the Ducking Flats on Meares Island.
“It’s a great opportunity to bring students out to those sites and show them some of that intertidal stratigraphy and show how marshes develop over time, but also how they could be archives of past events like earthquakes, and resulting tsunamis,” said Hughes, who worked in the intertidal wetland and salt mud flats in the Esowista Penninsula for his PhD research.
During their time at Ducking Flats, the students learn about the different species in each level of marsh, low marsh, middle marsh and high marsh.
They dig through the ground, count the species and understand the diversity along the elevation gradient.
Students also study the stratigraphy beneath the marsh’s surface and identify the sand layers resulting from tsunamis.
Arndt said the students are engaging in typical field techniques that are used in research publications, and getting training for further research in these areas.
The course, which is part of the summer semester, is still fairly new and not part of the professors teaching loads.
Each professor volunteers to take the time and bring the students to Clayoqout Sound, but all believe the course is valuable for the educational value it provides.
Harrison calls it a baseline for future courses and studies in the area.
They are grateful for the Tofino Botanical Gardens, which provides them the facilities to use during the course.
“This is mostly about education for the students and to help spread the message that Clayoqout Sound is a pretty special place,” said Ardnt. “In the future hopefully we’ll be able to expand [the course] and use these developing databases to develop ongoing research projects.”
To date, the course ran in 2008 and 2009, then again this year.
Arndt said the plan is to return in two years.
“If we could get the students, I would probably run this until I retire,” he said.