This very special place, called XwaYeN (pronounced shwai’yen), was established as an ecological reserve in 1980. Race Rocks Ecological Reserve protects intertidal and subtidal communities that are extremely rich as a result of the strong tidal currents in the area.
The protected area is an important teaching site for the Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific, comprised of a marine area of 251.40 hectares extending down to 120 feet, and a land area of 0.5 hectares (total 251.90 hectares).
Race Rocks Ecological Reserve is located 17 kilometres southwest of Victoria at the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and is the most southerly part of Canada’s Pacific coast. One of its nine islets is the site of Race Rocks Light station, the second oldest lighthouse in Western Canada.
Named for its strong tidal currents and rocky reefs, Race Rocks is a showcase for Pacific marine life, featuring whales, sea lions, seals, birds and a dazzling array of underwater plants and animals. Cold, nutrient-rich waters from the depths of the Pacific Ocean are forced upwards to the surface in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Fast-moving water with eddies and whirlpools at Race Rocks supports an ecosystem very rich in marine mammals, fish, invertebrates and birds.
In 1980, Race Rocks was designated as an ecological reserve by the province of British Columbia. The area’s remarkable tidal flow – up to seven knots – supplies a generous stream of nutrients to a thriving community of subtidal invertebrates, including sponges, anemones, hydroids and soft corals. Crowds of barnacles, tunicates, urchins and sea stars adorn the underwater cliffs. Fish such as sculpin, rockfish, and lingcod seek refuge in the rocky crevices and undulating kelp forests.
Above water, the islets serve as nesting colonies for many seabirds, such as gulls, cormorants, pigeon guillemots and oystercatchers, and as a stopover for migratory birds. They share the rocks with resting harbour seals, Steller’s and California sea lions, and a few northern elephant seals.
River otters patrol the shoreline, and killer whales are frequent visitors. Gray whales, Dall’s and harbour porpoises occasionally pass by.
The exceptional diversity of marine life at Race Rocks long recognized by First Nations in the area makes it an ideal place for scientific and educational observation. It serves as a model for the transition zone between inner coastal waters and the open ocean, which is why nearby Lester B. Pearson College was instrumental in having Race Rocks designated as an ecological reserve. In cooperation with BC Parks and the Canadian Coast Guard, the college now operates the light station facility as an education centre.
Race Rocks was declared a candidate Marine Protected Area in 1998 and endorsed in September 2000. A Marine Protected Area is an area of the ocean that is designated for special protection under the Oceans Act. The goals of a Marine Protected Area are to protect and conserve the natural beauty and richness of Canada’s marine areas, retain ecological diversity, provide scientific research and educational opportunities, and preserve the many recreational and cultural features of the oceans. Since 1998, First Nations, BC Parks and Fisheries and Oceans Canada have been working closely with the public and the Race Rocks Advisory Board to manage the ecological reserve.
Race Rocks is one of the most challenging and exhilarating dive sites in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. With currents that often exceed 5 or 6 knots, the window for diving is limited to the slack tides that occur every 6 1/2 hours. In addition to the thrill of the rich marine life, divers can search for debris from over 100 ships that have been wrecked at Race Rocks. Spring and Fall are the best diving times at Race Rocks, with good visibility fairly certain.
Access to Race Rocks Ecological Reserve is by boat only, with marine eco tours provided out of Sooke and Victoria. Fishing and collecting of all marine life is prohibited within the protected area.
For a virtual tour of Race Rocks, visit www.racerocks.com.
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