First Nation gets a kelp-ing hand to map shoreline

Kwiakah First Nation collaborates with North Island College to create a detailed map of wild kelp beds in traditional territory

By Samantha McLeod

One of the smallest First Nations in British Columbia – Kwiakah – has big plans when it comes kelp.

The core of the traditional territory of the Kwiakah First Nation which has 23 registered members, includes the Phillips and Frederick Arm region, about an hour’s boat ride north from downtown Campbell River.

It is rich with Bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) which contours much of the steep, rocky shoreline throughout the territory.

This week, the Centre for Applied Research, Technology and Innovation (CARTI) at North Island College announced it is collaborating with the Kwiakah First Nation to conduct wild kelp bed research.

The goals of the collaboration are two-fold: to create a detailed map and measurements of the wild kelp beds and to research the role of kelp in carbon sequestration from the ocean.

“We’re very excited to work with Frank and Kwiakah on this project,” said Allison Byrne, Lead Researcher, CARTI.

“We’re constantly learning more about the benefits and complexities of ecosystems supported by wild kelp. Taking inventories like this one help us monitor how those wild beds change over time.”

Frank Voelker, who leads Band Management and Economic Development for the Kwiakah First Nation, approached North Island College with concerns about the status of wild kelp beds in the territory and the impact of commercial harvest of wild ocean plants. The Kwiakah also have a strong interest in the ecosystem services that kelp provides.

“Kelp and other ocean plants are crucial for a functioning marine ecosystem in Kwiakah’s territory,” said Voelker.

Kwiakah Chief Steven Dick, a strong supporter of a healthy marine environment, authorized Voelker to reach out to NIC and CARTI.

“They are leaders in marine research in our region and are the right partner for Kwiakah to explore measures that will help in our efforts to protect the marine environment,” he said. “Equipped with the research results developed by CARTI, Kwiakah will be in a position to work with the BC government to implement the most effective management style for the territory.”

The project is funded by Tides Canada and Coast Funds. Surveys will begin this summer and will be completed by December 2020.