Fascinating tide pools, and the ghost-suburbs of Ucluelet

On Monday the 29th of August we rose early and headed to the neighbouring town of Ucluelet  (that's "you-clue-let"), approximately 40 km to the south. The contrast between Ukee and Tofino is noteworthy. This town feels more like a coastal fishing village than a tourist destination. There are more family homes in Ukee, more pickup trucks, fewer surfers, and it is harder to find a cappuccino (not that we were complaining). One also senses a certain degree of civic rivalry, as evidenced by the stenciling on these signs marking the crossroads between the two towns- check out the fine print.

View from The Junction, where one is presented with the choice between "heaven" and "hell". 

There is a special place in my heart for Ukee. For the past decade I have been involved in the creation of a small public aquarium out here - more on that in a moment. One of my favourite spots to revisit every year are the tidepools outside Ucleulet. Fortunately for us, our visit coincided with a fairly low tide and very calm seas. Perfect conditions for tidepooling.

The ochre sea star (Pisaster ochraceous) is perhaps THE iconic keystone species. Here we see a cluster of ochre stars foraging on the abundant mussels, limpets and barnacles that cover these intertidal rocks. This foraging activity keeps mussel populations in check, providing niche-space for other species that would otherwise be crowded out. Ochre foraging also loosens mussels from the substrate, which fall into the awaiting  mouths of hungry sea anemones.

Below is a fairly typical tide pool for this region, with a diversity of invertebrates covering almost every square inch of real estate. The cold water in this region is high in O2, providing a haven for plankton growth and a bounty for filter feeders. 

Our Group spent about three hours admiring the richness and diversity of these tide pools. I wonder how many visitors to the coast stop and appreciate them. 

Here I am, rambling-on about the inter-tidal ecosystem. 

A recent addition to Ucluelet is the Wild Pacific Trail that hugs the coastline for several kilometres. Most of this trail is pristine wilderness. But there is a section close to town that I can only describe as surreal. Emerging from the forest that borders the coastline, we found ourselves smack-dab in the middle of a hauntingly empty suburb. These lots were cleared in the mid 2000's, at the peak of the real estate boom. There are shiny new street lamps, landscaped side-walks, fire hydrants, electrical and plumbing facilities, even cross walks; but no houses. This project was undertaken in an effort to bring development and economic growth to the community. I guess the idea was, "build it and they will come". But to me, the whole idea seems incredibly ill conceived. Who is supposed to move here? What were all of these new residents supposed to do for jobs? I am reminded of the images I have seen of ghost towns in Spain, also built during the real estate boom that preceded the financial meltdown of 2008.

In what some might regard as no small irony, the district of Ucluelet won a Provincial award for these developments in 2008. You can read all about their town "sustainability" plan, and about the Community Excellence award.

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