The value of an area can vary greatly depending on your priorities. If you’re a business mogul, you’ll know the Fraser River Delta as Canada’s “Gateway to Asia” – a major transportation and trade hub served by industrial shipping, rail and road networks. For millions of migratory birds, this fertile estuary plays a far more important role as the gateway to their breeding grounds in the arctic tundra.
Every year thousands of waterfowl and wading birds stop to rest and refuel on their spring migration. They eat crustaceans, molluscs and biofilm – slimy microbe leaves that are found in the vast mud flats of the Fraser River Delta. Most of the world population of the western sandpipers Calidris mauri stop here during the spring migration. The fatty acids contained in the biofilm are an important source of nutrients for this tiny wading bird and give it the energy to travel another 3,000 kilometers and start breeding. It’s safe to say that without the Fraser River Delta, the entire species could be endangered.
In late summer and early fall, the delta becomes an important hideout for molting great crested grebes and sea ducks during their most vulnerable (and least glamorous) season. Then, in winter, the banks of the estuary are covered with the plump, fluffy outlines of swans, ducks and geese huddling against the cold. Two percent of the world’s American Wigeon Mareca americana population overwinter in the Fraser River Delta – this small, compact duck goes in search of aquatic plants or pastures on marshland and farm fields. Although well known and widespread, the population decreased by 65% between 1966 and 2015 – with habitat loss being a major factor.
Western Sandpiper, Copyright Glyn Sellors, from the Surfbirds Galleries
In addition to providing year-round hospitality to migratory birds, these wetlands also serve as inland gateways to Canada’s largest wild salmon migration. In addition to welcoming adult salmon as they make their way upriver, the delta is an important salmon nursery where juvenile chinook salmon feed and grow Oncorhynchus tshawytscha before heading to the Pacific. This has significant advantages: adult chinook salmon is the primary food source for the highly endangered population of the southern killer whale orcinus orca population, which is now reduced to around 75 people.
Not to mention the gateway to happiness and wellbeing that it offers to people and that inspires countless Canadian citizens to love and respect the natural world.
Given this information, you may be shocked to learn that this area of rare ecological importance has already lost 80% of its natural habitat. Now the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority is proposing a mega-expansion of a shipping terminal at Roberts Bank: a proposal that has been criticized by a federal review body as being seriously detrimental to the species in the Delta. BirdLife Partners Nature Canada and Birds Canada, together with the local NGO BC Nature, are campaigning for those in power to put in place a Fraser Estuary Management Plan before further developments can take place and are calling for public support. It is up to us to decide what type of gateway the Fraser River Delta will be.
Visit the Birds Canada website to get your voice heard.