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Beach volunteers fear field-trip damage

Crescent Beach is a popular spot for year-end school field trips.  - Contributed photo
Crescent Beach is a popular spot for year-end school field trips.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Local beach volunteers are raising the alarm about the future of shore crabs along Crescent Beach, in light of surveys that show the population is being devastated by the regular deluge of school children arriving for year-end field trips.

“In four years, I’ve seen a decline in the abundance of shore crabs along Crescent Beach, particularly the Beecher Place stretch,” said Jessica Alford, a volunteer with Shorekeepers, a non-profit group that monitors six beaches between the Little Campbell River and Blackie Spit.

“It can be specifically traced to the overload of school field trips.”

Alford, a Newton resident, said May and June is the most fragile time of year for shore crabs. It’s when they molt and breed, and they need to be able to hide and grow during that vulnerable time.

Unfortunately – and unlike the dungeness crabs – shore crabs are not a protected species.

And with an average of 1,000 children on the beach at least three days a week during that same period – collecting the water-dependent crabs in empty pails and turning over rocks to uncover them from hiding spots – the species isn’t faring well, Alford said.

Alford is among Friends of Semiahmoo Bay Society volunteers who take classes and groups to the beach as part of the society’s education programs. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough resources to spread awareness on the delicacy of the ecosystem and how to protect it far enough.

Efforts are underway to get the word out to Lower Mainland teachers. The group is asking that they consider alternative destinations for their end-of-year events. Failing that, they’re sharing tips teachers can pass on to their students should they decide on a beach trip.

But Alford said navigating the rules of various school districts regarding information distribution has been tricky. While Abbotsford officials were highly receptive, she hasn’t been able to reach anyone in Burnaby, Coquitlam or Maple Ridge for help. In Surrey, she said her group was told non-profits must now pay to have information dispersed by the district. It’s an option the society cannot afford.

School district spokesperson Doug Strachan said the amount and type of information distributed to Surrey schools is carefully controlled, in part due to the quantity of requests. Also considered is whether the information is from a for-profit group, and if it would make more sense to target who gets it.

Strachan said he shared Alford’s concerns directly with the district’s science helping teacher, “to communicate to the schools about the need to be respectful of the beach.”

“I went straight to the people… that have a direct connection,” he said.

It makes more sense to target the information “rather than spread it everywhere and hope it sticks,” he said.

A Friends of Semiahmoo Bay Society beach-etiquette flyer was also posted to an internal folder that teachers access when planning field trips, he said.

Alford said her group’s intent is not to take away anyone’s enjoyment of the beach. It’s to ensure the ecosystem survives.

“We want people to go and enjoy the beach and learn about the beach. The problem with the field trips is it’s all at the same time, when the beach is at its most fragile time.

“We’re asking that if they aren’t at the beach to have a beach-education experience, that they consider a different location… because the overload is having quite a destructive impact.”

 

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