Salmon (Photo by Photom72, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons)
Pacific salmon have some of the most complex life cycles of any species on earth. They are anadromous, meaning their eggs are laid and hatch in freshwater, and their young spend at least some of their early lives in freshwater before swimming to the sea to grow and mature.
One of the most remarkable things about Pacific salmon is their ability to find their way home again when it is time to reproduce. They have been known to travel thousands of kilometres in the ocean, as well as battle strong river currents and waterfalls to reach their hatching places.
There are five species of Pacific salmon in British Columbia:
What is this species' ecological role?
Each year, these species transfer crucial nutrients from marine to freshwater and terrestrial environments on their annual migration to their natal streams, where they spawn and die. The nitrogen, phosphorous and carbon that is delivered to rivers, estuaries and riparian zones through the decomposition and the predation of spawned salmon act as important building blocks of these freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems, thereby maintaining the productivity of river corridors and associated forest ecosystems throughout BC.
Chinook, chum, coho, pink and sockeye salmon are also critical to coastal ecosystems because they are desirable food sources for a wide range of species, from microscopic invertebrates to large vertebrate carnivores such as grizzly and black bears.
What is NCC doing to help protect habitat for this species?
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has listed these five species of Pacific salmon as key focal species within all of its BC Region Conservation Blueprints, not only because of their highly specialized life histories but also because they play a critical role in the integrity of BC's marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems.
In addition, NCC has worked with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to develop conservation units for Pacific salmon species in BC and the Yukon, in order to conserve these keystone species more effectively and support DFO's Wild Salmon Policy.
NCC properties with known salmon populations
Campbell River Estuary - A former industrial mud pit, the site is now teeming with life again thanks to work done by NCC and its partners.
Kumdis Estuary - A unique environment, rich in biodiversity, which has led scientists to refer to the area as the "Galapagos of the North."
Koeye Estuary - One of the most outstanding estuaries in British Columbia, Koeye features ideal habitat for salmon.