Mitlenatch IslandNear Quadra Island
Home to the largest seabird colony in the Strait of Georgia, Mitlenatch Island is a climatically unique biodiversity hotspot located about 20km southeast of Campbell River. It is also a BC Park and protected area, with only a small portion of the island accessible to visitors, and all marine life within 300 meters of the coastline protected. Lying in the rain shadow of both Vancouver Island and the Coast Range mountains, the island is Mediterranean in climate, receiving less than 75 cm of precipitation per year, compared to its neighbour, Campbell River, at 153 cm.
Location and AccessCoordinates: 49°57’N 125°00’W
Mitlenatch Island is located in the middle of the Strait of Georgia, approximately 10 km from the nearest point on Vancouver Island (the community of Oyster River). Accessible only by boat, this island is frequented by humans during the summer months, when the nesting birds are plentiful. It is a small island of only 155 hectares, and has two calm-weather anchorage areas in Northwest Bay and Camp Bay. There are no docking facilities, so private boaters either anchor and wade in, or pull their boats up on the sand. There is no scheduled boat service to the island, but many charter outfitters offer trips there as part of their wildlife tours.
Mitlenatch Island is volcanic in origin and has an extremely thin covering of soil. Many rocky outcroppings exist, particularly suited to nesting seabirds, and small sandy beaches occur where the shoreline is gently sloped. The only trees to speak of are a small stand of shore pines, and a grove of trembling aspen on the west shore. The rest of the island is covered in short grasses, brambles, bushes, and flowering plants, all types adapted to the dry climate.
There is a limited network of trails on the island that provide hiking access to the portions that are accessible to the public. Two information boards provide historical and ecological information to the visitors and a bird blind provides close-up viewing of the nest sites on the east side of the island.
Life on the Island
Mitlenatch Island is the largest seabird colony in the Strait of Georgia. Large nesting colonies of pelagic cormorant, pigeon guillemot, glaucous-winged gull, northwestern crow, double crested cormorants, black oystercatchers, and rhinoceros auklets exist, in and among over a hundred other species in smaller numbers, some just visiting the island. It plays host to a number of threatened species as well with the marbled murrelet, northern sea-lion, Carolina foxtail, winged water starwort, and northern abalone on the BC Red List, and numerous plant species on the blue list.
As an isolated island, Mitlenatch is relatively safe from a lot of the threats facing most mainland sites. As a protected area in BC, it enjoys freedom from habitat takeover by humans as well as the usual hunting pressures, but as a popular park it is still at risk from human disturbances, whether it be tourists straying into sensitive areas or just too many visitors stressing the nesting birds. As a colony of ground and cliff nesting birds, it is also extremely sensitive to introduced predators. A successful colony of Norwegian rats could wreak havoc on the birds, eating both the eggs and nestlings out of the easily accessible nests.