Clam garden restoration
Coast Salish peoples
Hul’q’umi’num and WSÁNEĆ peoples, whose ancestral territories criss-cross the southern Gulf Islands, have managed their lands and resources for thousands of years. Evidence of their hard work is found across the Gulf Islands in the form of canoe runs, camas meadows and clam gardens.
Coast Salish peoples care for their beaches using traditional practices such as removing kelp and sea lettuce. They turn their beaches with specialized tools to loosen the sand, allowing more room for creatures to grow.
At some locations, Coast Salish peoples modify beaches by building rock walls near the lowest tide mark. These walls trap sand and sediment, creating a terrace on the landward side. Such modified beaches are known to some as “clam gardens.”
Knowledge holders and scientists explain that clam gardens can be highly productive, supporting four times as many butter clams and twice as many littleneck clams compared to unmodified beaches (Groesbeck et al, 2014).
Caring for beaches
A tended clam garden has many purposes; it serves as a pantry, teeming with delicious food. It is also a classroom, where Elders share knowledge and work alongside youth. Together, the entire community cares for the clam garden to keep it healthy.
Clam garden restoration
In 2014, the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, in partnership with Hul’q’umi’num and WSÁNEĆ Nations, began restoring two clam gardens, which haven’t been tended for hundreds of years.
So far, the clams on the beaches have been monitored and restoration has begun. This work is guided by Coast Salish knowledge holders, and complemented by modern scientific methods. Some days, we move big boulders while listening to stories. On others, we use scales and gauges to assess the health of the intertidal ecosystem.
WSÁNEĆ and Hul’q’umi’num Nations are the leaders of the Clam Garden Restoration Project. While our partners at Royal Roads University, Simon Fraser University and the University of Saskatchewan as well as many volunteers have contributed both time and strength to this project.
A special thanks to the Cowichan Valley School District (SD. 79) and the WSÁNEĆ School Board who have made sharing knowledge with Coast Salish youth a top priority.
Huy ch q'a, HÍSWḴE and thank you.
Learn more: Bivalve Monitoring - A Photo Story