Every year, Habitat Acquisition Trust partners with the Peninsula Streams Society and the Tsartlip First Nation to help restore one of the region's lesser known islands: Senanus. That this place is not well known is perhaps one of its advantages as an area set aside for nature. Though it is usually off limits to visitors, there is evidence of people stopping by.
The story of the island that is also little known may encourage a greater respect of the restricted use of this sacred space. Senanus actually means breast in the Coast Salish tongue. From a certain profile, the island bears a resemblance to the anatomy for which it is named. Seeing our likeness in the features of the landscape is perhaps a good way to subconsciously relate to and identify with our environment. One certainly feels a sense of peacefullness cradled on the bosom of the Earth, working on this land to remove the invasive plants and leave room for the native species to return.
This year a group of about 15 volunteers and non-profit supporters were given permission to spend a day on this special island to carry on the work of weeding the island to improve it's ecological integrity. The island was once a yellow smudge on the horizon when the Scotch Broom was in bloom, but now what little broom is left is manageable and we are already working away at the English Ivy creeping up on trees, shrubs, and ground cover.
During a visit to the island volunteers are welcomed by the hoarse yet friendly cries of dozens of the blue-black Stellar's Jays that inhabit the island. Never still, always lively, the jays are a welcome sight. It was also a treat for us to see the Harvest Brodiaea in bloom.
As we pulled and snipped out the ivy, careful to get at the dastardly roots to thwart its return, we realized that the group was being watched. A family of raccoons (Procyon lotor) inhabits the island, and they appeared quite curious to see such large non-marine mammals in their presence. With its abundance of tree cavities for dens, lack of large predators, and bounty of succulent shellfish, Senanus seems like a paradise for these little bandits. Raccoons' adaptability to urban situations has earned them a bad reputation with some humans, and although it is thought they may have been introduced to some smaller, harder to get to Gulf Islands, they are a native species on Vancouver Island and the larger Gulf Islands. There's a fair chance that they are not introduced on Senanus, but simply swam over from the nearby shore. Raccoons are capable of swimming 5 km/h (3 mph) on average and can stay in the water for several hours. Despite a bad reputation, the racoon plays an important role in local ecosystems as a scavenger cleaning up what's left behind by other predators or dying animals. On Senanus Island and other locations, it is rumoured that raccoons help keep the profusely defecating, introduced non-migratory Canada Goose population at bay by opportunistically enjoying their eggs. Studies of predation on Canada Geese elsewhere have identified raccoons as predators of both eggs and goslings (Gosser et al. 1997)(Brown, 2007).
Two other treasures we excavated from the ivy were the skeletons of both a racoon and two geese. As nature buffs, each of us delighted in figuring out what species the bones belonged to. At first, it is a bit of a surprise how large a goose's bones are, although the light and porous features of the bones help give them away as bird skeletons upon inspection.
Overall, HAT and Peninsula Streams removed roughly a dozen stretchers of English Ivy, Himalayan Blackberry, Laurel Daphne, and Scotch Broom with 13 volunteers. A big thank you to everyone for their involvement, inlcuding Brian Smiley for transporting us to the island and both Sarah Verstegen and Barry Philbrook for transporting our tools. We are also so grateful to the Tsartlip Nation for being habitat stewards and allowing us to be involved with restoring Senanus. From a distance this island once appeared as a swath of yellow when the broom bloomed, but now volunteers can see the light at the end of the tunnel and the troublesome invasive plant is becoming more and more manageable. Senanus is a testament to what can be done towards effectively managing weedy species.
So, next time if you depart on a boating journey from Brentwood Bay you may see Senanus Island to the right, out of respect we ask that you enjoy it from the water and do not disturb this special part of Tsartlip territory. If you are intrigued about visiting the island, we welcome you to sign up for the next annual Senanus trip.