Yesterday, my mom brought me down to one of her favourite beaches here in Cobble Hill, British Columbia. Cherry Point Beach is a beautiful hidden gem located about 6km North of Mill Bay, easily accessible to us in our Cowichan Bay family home. It’s one of my family’s favourite spots for sandy beach walks at low tide, mirroring Salt Spring Island’s Musgrave Landing and Mount Tuam. You can also see Deep Cove, one of North Saanich’s nicest beaches on the tip of the Saanich Peninsula. The one hour stroll my mom and I did was a truly relaxing, spiritual experience: there’s some mystical energy coming from Mount Tuam, and fascinating mixed patterns (meaning the beach experiences both semi-diurnal and diurnal tides, depending on the time of year). Through many creative chats with my mom, I coined the idea to write a blog post about Cherry Point and discuss the ecology and geomorphic processes I observed.
The first thing I noticed about Cherry Point was the preservation of natural habitat. Though there is a small parking lot and outhouse structure, the community is booming with wildlife — from birds, to marine life and sea mammals like seals and porpoises (best seen with binoculars!). We rarely see other humans, and when we do, everyone seems to be extremely respectful of the beach. We hit low tide at 11:40am on this August day and were able to walk for hours on beautiful migrating sandbars, fascinatingly formed by the tides’ ability to deposit sand in the lower energy areas of the upper shoreface. The surf zone has a noticeably low slope; I imagine swimming at Cherry Point to be quite enjoyable because of how far you can wade out and still be only waist deep, meaning the waters have a greater ability to warm up to a ‘swimmable temperature’ on a summer day. Eventually the beach line turns to rocks (the headlands, cupping the far edges of the bay), which is our signal to turn around.
What blew my mind about Cherry Point (other than the super cute name and rustic, oceanfront properties) was the diversity of animal species. I was able to count over 15 aquatic species on our wanders and a diverse mix of green, red and brown algae. Below is a breakdown of the species I was able to identify. And no, unfortunately I didn’t take any photos, both my mom and I left our devices at home for a little break from technology*. If you haven’t done one already this summer, I highly recommend you do.
Here is a list of the types of animals I was able to observe and ID at Cherry Point Beach:
- Henricia aspera
- Dendraster excentricus
- Hemigrapsus nudus
- Hemigrapsus oregonensis
- Metacarcinus magister
- Balanus glandula
- Semibalanus cariosus
- Chthamalus dalli
- Aurelia labiata
- Octopus rubescens (unconfirmed)
- Leptocottus armatus
- Phoca vitulina
- Larus delawarensis (unconfirmed)
- Corvus caurinus
- Phalacrocorax auritus (unconfirmed)
- Ardea herodias
– I saw the most exciting species of starfish, a Rigged Blood Star Henricia aspera which aren’t normally found washed ashore unless tides are significantly low. They’re tiny fellas, able to grow only to a maximum of 12cm.
Sand Dollars (Echinodermata):
– I observed a number of baby Sand Dollars (white, meaning they were no longer alive), seriously the smallest Sand Dollars I’ve ever seen in my life. The smallest one I saw was only 5mm in diameter. I identified the adult species (alive and well) to be Dendraster excentricus. I would be extremely interested to research the lifecycle of the Sand Dollar, and better understand what is going on behind the scenes of these beautiful creatures, especially why their little babies were lifeless, and if that is a cause for concern.
– I have never seen such an abundance of crabs in my life. I observed probably over a thousand baby crabs, fully aware of how much more was going on than what meets the eye. Walking back from the water towards land, I was suddenly aware of the hundreds of moving pea-sized crabs under my feet. My mom and I avoided stepping on as many crabs as possible and identified the Purple Shore Crab, Hemigrapsus nudus, and the Yellow Shore Crab, Hemigrapsus oregonensis. I was also able to identify multiple deceased Dungeness Crabs, Metacarcinus magister, along the tidal pools, clearly devoured by nearby predators.
– I was able to identify a number of barnacles both on rocks and the many massive shells littered along the beach: the Acorn Barnacle, Balanus glandula, the Thatched Barnacle, Semibalanus cariosus, and the Little Brown Barnacle, Chthamalus dalli.
– I was humbled excited to spot a baby moon jelly (early Medusa stage of the jelly lifecycle), no more than the size of a blueberry. The Greater Moon Jelly is also known as Aurelia labiata, not to be confused with the Moon Jelly, Aurelia aurita, found in the Atlantic Ocean.
Mystery Octopus (Cephalopoda):
– What exciting thing to share! This was a time when I really wished I had my camera. In observing a large shell I was pleased to spot a coiled up octopus (or in my mind, I wasn’t even sure at the time if it was a squid or an octopus, and was even doubting my eyes if what I was seeing was real! I was so excited to spot a rare creature, and if it was a Cephalopod, I am honoured. It may have been an East Pacific Red Octopus, Octopus rubescens. Other (not that common) octopi in the area include the Giant Pacific Octopus, Enteroctopus dofleini.
Ray-finned Fish (Actinopterygii):
– I was lucky enough to see a decent sized Pacific Staghorn Sculpin flopping around in low tides, Leptocottus armatus. These fish are so cute.
– A Common Seal popped his head up to say hello, Phoca vitulina
– Seagulls: though I am just learning about identifying gulls, I was able to narrow down the species observed on Cherry Point to either the Red-billed Gull, Larus delawarensis, or the Mew Gull, Larus canus. The biggest thing I noticed about the Seagulls down on Cherry Point was their small framed bodies, how close they stuck together and how unafraid of humans they were, in comparison to the species of Seagull I often observe in the city, the Western Gull, Larus occidentalis, and the Glaucous-winged Gull, Larus glaucescens.
– Northwestern crow, Corvus caurinus
– Cormorants: I saw cormorants out in the ocean, and as they were too far away to identify, their little black heads were undoubtably a Cormorant species. Cormorant species in the area include Brandt’s Cormorant, Phalacrocorax penicillatus, and the Double-crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus.
– Pacific Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias, have been under close monitor since the 2013 because of declining populations. There is also an absolutely stunning Great Blue Heron nesting sight in Cowichan Bay that is one of the most extraordinary things I have ever seen in my life. They perch and build nests on the tops of deciduous trees like they don’t quite grasp how big they are.
If you have any information on identifying the species I’m uncertain of, please leave a comment below!
*embedded in this post is a photo of Cherry Point’s shores taken earlier in the month.