Nature RambIes on the Ts-lhaa


By Genevieve Singleton, nature nut and nature interpreter,

“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the stars…” John Masefield

One of the lovely things about summer is spending time at the Ts-lhaa (hul’q’umi’num’ for beach). Check the tidetables, grab yourself a beach identification book/pamphlet and head out. The intertidal zone is home to an incredible variety of life, so much that First Nations up and down the coast say, “When the tide is out, the table is set”, referencing how much food is available in this habitat. Sadly, this is no longer always the case, since our ocean is besieged with many issues including pollution, higher temperatures, acidification, boat traffic, and building retaining walls which destroy forage fish habitat.

Children enjoy looking at little ‘ey’xal’lh (hul’q’umi’num’ for immature crabs) on the beach. Please be sure to return crabs and all creatures quickly to their homes after investigations. Hold a crab gently at the back, so the pinchers do not bite you, to look at its total of 19 sets of legs (some are very small tucked in around the mouth and tail). While holding it, you can check to see if it is a boy or girl. If you see a lighthouse shaped segment on the underside it is a male. A bell-shaped segment signifies it is a female. Often you will find masses of what appears to be dead crab bodies on the beach, but upon looking you will find these are empty exoskeletons. Crabs keep their skeleton on the outside of the body going through a molting process, leaving the exoskeleton behind, to grow a new, larger one.

Tamulqlh is the hul’q’umi’num’ word for sea stars. The expression sea stars is now used instead of starfish. A common local tamulqlh is the five legged Ochre Star (Pisaster ochraceus), which can live up to 20 years. Although ochre means brown/orange this species is usually purple in the Cowichan area. Research suggests that Ochre stars that eat quantities of mussels will be orange; those that do not tend to be purple. Mussels contain carotene, an orange pigment. Tamulqlh have had large die offs in the last few years from Sea Star Wasting Syndrome (SSWS). The good news is that tamulqlh is slowly making a comeback. The jury is still out on what caused this; likely multiple reasons possibly including a virus and warmer oceans.

These are only a few tidbits about this life giving, fascinating ecosystem. See you out on the ts-lhaa!!

Beach Manners:
Ours to enjoy, ours to protect.

· Please when turning rocks over put the rock back as you found them. Imagine if someone tipped your house upside down and walked away not bothering to put it back upright!

· Please take live critters out of the ocean and pools for only a few minutes, do not gather crabs by the handful, put into buckets and forget about them.

· Keep your eye on the tide!

· A Tidal Waters Fishing Licence is required to harvest shellfish, you can get this online.

· Sadly, in many places you cannot eat the shellfish; red tide and contaminated waters can make shellfish deadly to human. Conditions can change rapidly so be sure and do your research.

· Watch where you put your feet, try not to kill things unnecessarily.
Fun facts
· Seaweed is used to make ice-cream, make up, toothpaste, sunscreen, food colouring and many other things.

· We have a local industry, Vancouver Island Sea Salt, collecting salt from the Salish Sea.

· Daddy pipefish (related to Seahorses) carry the babies inside their bodies.

· Plainfin midshipman fish males guard the nest of babies long after the females have left.

· Barnacles live upside down with their feet gathering food.
Beach field guide:

Whelks to Whales by Nanaimo author, photographer and marine biologist, Rick Harbo,
Rick has also written several folding plastic field guides that can be picked up in local book stores
Phenomenal Read: The Sea Among Us, the Amazing Strait of Georgia by Richard Beamish and Gordon McFarlane, 2014