Whether you’ve been on an eco-tour of the Salish Sea with the Prince of Whales Whale Watching or you’ve browsed through some of the stunning imagery on our social media channels, it’s likely you’ve seen the ethereal beauty of the Race Rock Ecological Reserve.
This region, just east of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, was designated both an Ecological Reserve (in 1980) as well as a Marine Protected Area (in 2000) by the Parks Ministry of B.C., it’s Park #97 under the Provincial B.C. Parks protection.
In 1978 the area was used as a marine research project studied and managed by science and biology students at Pearson College UWC under professors Gary Fletcher and Marks McAvity. Twenty years later, in 1998, the area became an Ottawa-sanctioned Marine Protected Area designate, but it is still available for research and education at the college today, where the students actively maintain the land. A comprehensive taxonomy and species database can also be found onsite, updated each year by students. The Race Rocks website also features footage gathered by an underwater camera and remotely operated videocam. Many solar panels have since been installed, ensuring the energy consumed by the island is more sustainable than it was in past decades.
Race Rocks Ecological Reserve is an area that spans 1.2 square miles (3km2) and features both ocean and land. Visually, the sleek, black, wave-drenched rocks often house sunbathing sea lions while the bountiful reefs below are home to a rich diversity of sea fish. The area can be found where the Strait narrows, yet doesn’t include the memorable Race Rocks Lighthouse or sizeable foghorn, which are both on land leased by the Canadian Coast Guard.
The marine life found in and around Race Rocks are what bring charm to the area. They certainly also help to make it one of the highlights of many Prince of Whales Whale Watching tours. Harbour seals use the area as a birthing rookery, as do elephant seal, making it the most northern Pacific Coast birthing colony. The fantastic diversity of Race Rocks fauna can be pinned on the motion of the tides: a high tidal current means many invertebrates, algae, seagrasses are easily found, so it’s a delicious feeding area for sea lions, seabirds, larger fish, and cetaceans.
As of 2015, Ollie the Otter, a sea otter who has made himself into something of a local celebrity, has made the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve his home. He’s often found playfully watching tours go by and splashing around with seaweed in his hands. He’s certainly a highlight in the area; proof that while we may believe we’re watching animals, they’re often just as interested in us as we are in them!
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