The Dying Clam Gardens of Waiatt Bay

For thousands of years, First Nations have relied upon the traditional clam gardens of Waiatt Bay, which contains 40 culturally modified clam beds. In the last few years we’ve been hearing reports that the clam gardens are dying, so we decided to go see for ourselves. Waiatt Bay is of particular interest as it is in the middle of the Wild Salmon Narrows.  

As we entered Waiatt Bay on the east side of Quadra Island, clam gardens were evident  in every nook and cranny possible, where for thousands of years First Nations worked these sea gardens by rolling the large rocks down to the low tide line in order to improve the habitat for the clams and cockles they harvest. Immediately upon setting foot on shore, the elders went to work digging clams, as their ancestors before them…and hopefully their children after them!  
We took a look at several of the clam gardens, and at first glance the clams seemed healthy. However the beaches were full of whole empty shells, which suggests many had died fairly recently. Butter clams seemed to be most affected, while the deeper little necks appeared fine. 
The elders slowly filled a few buckets until it was time to head back. The clams collected appeared to be healthy and although the abundance of clams at all the sites we visited was greatly reduced from historical levels, they were able to collect enough to look forward to a good clam dinner. As former Homalco Chief Darren Blaney began opening the butter clams harvested on the apparently healthy beaches, he found them all inedible. The clams were not good at all; rather than a nice healthy pink, they were blackened and sickly looking inside.

It’s not clear why these clam gardens are dying, but the Cyrus Rocks open net-cage fish farm only 1.5 km from the mouth of the bay is a prime suspect. This is the same type of impact being witnessed on beaches near fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago. While we await the results of a study being conducted there, perhaps we should be looking more closely at the beaches near the farms in this area as well. 

Learn more about Waiatt Bay, the Wild Salmon Narrows, and the Cyrus Rocks fish farm.

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