SpruceRoots Magazine - March 2000

 

SANCTUARY AT KUMDIS

by Erica Thompson

Islanders pass over the Kumdis River on their way to Port Clements or Masset everyday. A highway, a bridge, a river, an inlet, so it seems from a truck window. But, if we were to follow the river on foot to where it settles out over the salt-water body of the Masset Inlet we would encounter, in the mingling waters, both a river's ending and the richest of beginnings.


The Kumdis river spills into a shallow bay and almost immediately branches northwards where waters flow into one of the most sensitive ecological areas of Graham Island; a corridor between Graham and Kumdis Islands known as the Kumdis Slough.


Gerry Morigeau has spent many years along these waters watching the seasonal comings and goings of the slough's rich and diverse wildlife, wherein resident and migrating birds, deer, salmon, and the smallest of invertebrates home in the salt marsh habitat. What follows are mental maps and observations made possible only by committing to a place and staying put.


In attempts to live lightly within the sensitive landscapes of Kumdis Slough, Morigeau has tried to monitor his ecological footprint in a place, which supports a rich diversity of waterfowl, fish, and invertebrates. The area is frequented by over wintering species of waterfowl such as pintail, mallard, loon, merganser, teal, scoter, grebe, Canada goose, goldeneye, bufflehead and trumpeter swans to name only a few. There are dunlin, yellowleg, great blue heron, sanderling, snipe, sharp-shinned hawk, northern goshawk, pine grosbeak, northern harrier (migratory), saw-whet owl, Savannah sparrow, bald eagles, peregrine, trumpeter swans, as well as the common songbirds of Haida Gwaii found at Kumdis.


The slough is important sandhill crane habitat, especially on the east side of the corridor, where they are observed each spring and fall staging for migration, and on occasion flocks in excess of a dozen individuals have been sighted feeding here. All summer long, breeding pairs of cranes utilize the foreshore area on either side of the slough, and they are highly sensitive to human activity and any sort of disturbances.


Within the slough's waters, the shallow eelgrass habitat in the main channel represents a rare ecosystem and important fish-rearing habitat. "Eelgrass ecosystems are known for their rich biodiversity comparable to bull kelp system," he says. "Eelgrass beds are easily destroyed due to their shallow roots set in loose sand and silty bottoms. The loss of eelgrass in extremely shallow areas removes crucial shade cover for the many fish species found in this habitat. High numbers of salmon and trout fry can be observed at low tide sheltering in the eelgrass beds situated in the channel. If these beds are disturbed, the fry may be forced to move into deeper water farther south where they would be subject to increased predation, Morigeau says.


The depth of the slough at low tide increases gradually from the area of Kumdis divide south, thus the southern reaches of the slough provides sanctuary to species such as coho salmon. During low tide, the certain portions of the slough empty out completely, others remain under shallow waters and in particular areas at the southern end of the corridor were waters are deeper become important as staging areas in the spawning season filling up with mature coho salmon awaiting the flood tide.


"The coho salmon population in the Kumdis area seems to be responding favorably to the recent conservation measures implemented by DFO for the North Coast. This past fall the aforementioned staging area saw several dozen coho tightly schooled each day at low tide. At low slack, the channel where the coho school is, on average, about thirty to fifty cm deep and five to seven meters wide," Morigeau says. These tidal waters also house high concentrations of 'rough fish' such as stickleback, sculpin, needlefish, sole and various perch.
"All of these species are dependent upon this very narrow, and extremely fragile ecosystem."

The Kumdis Slough has an extensive list of accolades and support behind its name including the Council of the Haida Nation, which has designated it one of the fourteen identified 'Haida Protected Areas'. The Prince Rupert Protected Areas Strategy has recognized the slough as an 'Official Goal Two Study Area' and an internationally significant wetland with high waterfowl and shorebird values, and vital salmonoid habitat as part of the North Coast Wetland Program. Ministry of Environment has identified the area as one of the top seven migratory waterfowl habitats along British Columbia's coast.

SpruceRoots Magazine - March 2000