White Rock’s last Canadian Open Sandcastle Competition was held in 1987. File photo

Environmentalists express concerns for White Rock sandcastle bid

Friends of Semiahmoo Bay oppose ‘large-scale events’ at beach/intertidal zone

Preliminary response from environmental protection group Friends of Semiahmoo Bay does not offer encouragement for a proposed return of the Canadian Open Sandcastle Competition to White Rock beach by next year.

Society volunteer and spokesperson Yvonne Dawydiak told Peace Arch News by email Wednesday that the organization has “serious concerns about damages to the living ecosystem our local beaches represent.”

The White Rock Events Society, which appeared before council on Monday, is hoping to revive the competition, last held in 1987, in time for a 40th anniversary event on Aug. 17, 2019.

While council expressed general support for the proposal, it was sent on to staff for a full report.

Mayor Wayne Baldwin and several councillors noted that Friends of Semiahmoo Bay, the provincial government and the Semiahmoo First Nation would all have environmental concerns about an event which, as Coun. Megan Knight said, had attracted as many as “200,000 people” to the beach in the 1980s.

Baldwin said the event would require both approval of the provincial government – which has imposed greater limitations on use of the beach – and the Semiahmoo First Nation, to proceed.

At press time, SFN representatives had not replied to a request for further comment.

Dawydiak said she believes environmental concerns about beach events are “held fairly universally and practices have even been adopted at other large-scale events to remove them from ‘living’ beaches such as ours.”

“As a society, we are definitely opposed to large-scale events taking place on the sand/beach/intertidal zone,” she said.

That doesn’t mean the society is opposed to all sandcastle building at the beach, Dawydiak noted, adding that the society’s Beach Hero Marine Interpreter program provides conservation-minded information and training to local school groups and visitors to the beach.

“While we acknowledge that digging in the sand causes damage, our marine interpreters do not actively discourage families from building small sandcastles and, instead, we focus on certain ‘beach etiquette’ tips that can help minimize the damage done when families enjoy the beach,” Dawydiak said.

In a further email Thursday, society president Marg Cuthbert said the group had not yet been contacted to discuss a revived sandcastle event, as proponents had told council.

Cuthbert said, however, that the society had worked collaboratively with previous Sea Festival organizers on creating designated areas for families to build sandcastles, and the festival had also co-operated by creating a sandcastle area off the beach to minimize harm to the ecosystem.

“As I understand it, (it) was very successful, attracting international sand artists,” she said.

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