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Living the intertidal life at Witty’s Lagoon

With sand-covered toes and wet hands, children got a close look at squirming, slimy and clawed sea creatures on Tuesday.
Sasha Barnes

With sand-covered toes and wet hands, children got a close look at squirming, slimy and clawed sea creatures on Tuesday.

In the morning, divers entered the ocean at Witty’s Lagoon and came out with living treasures to share with children and adults for the popular Marine Day event.

Divers resurfaced with creatures great and small, such as sunflower starfish, hairy helmet crabs and sea lemons. The creatures where temporarily housed in small plastic swimming pools shaded by tents.

Capital Regional District Parks, Habitat Acquisition Trust and Sea Change staff demonstrated how to handle the sea life and explained a few interesting facts about them too.

Sea cucumbers look “spiky” to scare other animals away, but really they are soft to touch, Reed Osler, a CRD Park interpreter told a group of curious kids.

“They are trying to trick you,” she said.

If a predator decides to pursue the sea cucumber for a meal, the cuke has another mode of defence up its sleeve.

“A sea cucumber can throw up his insides (organs) and hope the predator goes after them instead,” Osler said. “He can grow them back.”

Beach-goers observed a sea star in the process of growing back lost limbs, possibility after they were eaten by another creature.

“That’s the thing with sea stars, they can grow their arms back,” Osler explained.

Witty’s intertidal beach area in Metchosin teemed with families, kids and groups excited to explore the lagoon and get a glimpse of its residents.

“We get hundreds of people here,” said Laurie Sthamann, communications coordinator for CRD Parks. “We do this to raise awareness for sea life.”

Other activities at Marine Day included a puppet show, beach bingo and a scavenger hunt.

“This is a great event. It teaches the children about nature and building respect for nature,” said Howard Barnes, who brought his four children to the event from Cowichan Bay.

Event organizers also wanted to deliver a message to the participants about the importance of safeguarding these rich habitats.

“It is important that people know what’s at the bottom of Bilston Creek,” Todd Carnahan, land coordinator for HAT. “Choices people make upstream impact Witty’s Lagoon.”

For people who live upstream of Bilston Creek, Carnahan said keeping compost, pet waste and manure away from the creek is important.

“The nutrients can get into the water and takes the oxygen out ... that kills the trout.”

Another issue is eroding land upstream. The soil in the water adds nutrients as well as sediment.

“Witty’s Lagoon is filling with sediment,” Carnahan said. “Some day it may be a wet meadow instead of a intertidal area.”