Project on migratory birds on Nuu-chah-nulth lands earns award

Sam Laskaris, May 17, 2019

Sandpipers, like the ones pictured on mudflats, are part of a research projects into migratory patterns of birds in and around Tofino. (RES photo)

Tofino, BC — 

A research project monitoring the movement patterns of birds, as well as their residency and habitats on Nuu-chah-nulth, lands has won a prestigious award.

The Raincoast Education Society (RES), as well as its partnering organizations, is the 2019 recipient of the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust award, which includes a $20,000 prize.

This marks the fifth year the award has been presented.

In order to be eligible for this prize, applicants must be doing research that addresses key ecosystem threats. The work must also be taking some sort of action within the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region.

Dr. Laura Loucks, the research director with the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, was somewhat surprised there was just one applicant for the award this year. She said there are typically 8-10 applicants per year.

But Loucks said she was very impressed with the RES application. In fact, that submission had finished as the runner-up for the same award in 2018, nudged out by one single point in the selection process by the eventual winning application, a salmon habitat restoration project from the Central West Coast Forest Society.

The RES project is titled Residency and Habitat Use of Migrating Shorebirds in Tofino BC.

The research includes tagging western sandpipers, dunlin, sanderling and semipalmated plovers. These four species are vulnerable to human disturbance and usually feed locally for a few days during their southern migration.

The RES project is monitoring the movements of the birds in Tofino and surrounding areas. This is done by utilizing VHF radio transmitters to track the movement of birds.

“It’s very important research because it shows us the migration pathways,” Loucks said.

Loucks added human disturbances such as new developments around Tofino can affect the birds’ migration patterns.

“This can really inform us as to how we need to change our behavior as humans,” she said of the RES project. “Without that awareness, we’re jeopardizing that pathway.”

Data collected will help researchers determine how long shorebirds stay locally during their migration, which habitats they prefer and how much human disturbance is affecting their feeding.

Mark Maftei, the executive director of the RES, is obviously thrilled with the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust award. His group began the research last year and is expected to continue for most of 2020.  

“It’s a multi-year project,” Maftei said. “The work was going to get done anyways.”

But now being an award-winning project makes it all more significant.

“What’s even more important than the money is the recognition,” Maftei said. “It shows the community is supporting the project.”

News of the RES award comes at an opportune time as officials are also trying to raise awareness of the International Day for Biological Diversity, which is celebrated on May 22.

RES officials are working on their project along with their partners from the Parks Canada Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Migrating shorebirds in the area use the beaches and mudflats, including those in Nuu-chah-nulth territory, during their migration.

Research work is taking place within the Tofino Wah-nah-jus Hilth-hoo-is Mudflats Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve. It is one of the more than 100 designated sites in North and South America.

“It's the only one that has been designated and created with direct participation from an Indigenous partner and almost all of it lies within the Tofino Tribal Park,” Maftei said.

Officials from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation assisted with the creation of the site.

Maftei added this research work is important as it demonstrates how nature everywhere is connected.

“When most people see a shorebird, that's all they see, a bird,” he said. “We are hoping this research will shed light on what goes on during a single bird's day and how those days come together to tell an amazing story.”

That story?

“These impressive migrations and the habitats and resources the birds rely on and how they move through the landscape, and what those movements can ultimately tell us about a whole system, not just a single bird,” Maftei said.

Maftei also stressed tagged birds are not inconvenienced.

“They are very small,” Maftei said of the tags, adding they weigh less than a gram. “And they are attached to the bird's feathers with glue. When the bird molts its feathers, the tag falls off. It doesn't cause the birds any discomfort. And it doesn't affect their ability to fly, feed, or do anything they normally do.”