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Chemainus Biodiversity Education Project

The problem of biodiversity loss is BIG so what can a single person or community do? We can start with learning what biodiversity means right in our own backyards, why it is important, and what might be threatening it at a local level. Equipped with knowledge and insights, we can strive to make more informed decisions as individuals and communities, whether on how to live well, encourage our youth in healthful choices for their future, or make land use decisions that ultimately  support human and ecosystem well-being.

What does biodiversity mean to you, in your own backyard? Do you have a yearning to learn or to share your expertise with others? The Chemainus Biodiversity Education Project wants to know!  

The Chemainus Biodiversity Education Project is a collaboration that began in 2007 between the University of Victoria through the POLIS Project and a number of interested individuals, organizations, First Nations and businesses in the Chemainus region of Vancouver Island, including Thetis and Penelakut Islands. It is completely volunteer-based. The first phase of the project from 2007-2009 involved piloting a collaborative learning model that draws on a combination of local and academic expertises and experiential learning in nature as outdoor classrooms. The project is currently in its second phase, drawing together the collective expertise shared to create user-friendly educational resources for the region. Stay tuned for the launch of our web-based resources and field guide in 2013!

The goals of the project are:

  • to foster an awareness of and respect for local biodiversity, and connections between community and ecosystem health
  • to explore connections between biodiversity and cultural knowledge, and promote respect for all peoples and creatures of the region
  • to build understandings of the links between biodiversity and climate change
  • to facilitate active participation and experiential learning using nature as an "outdoor classroom"
  • to develop educational materials and resources for local schools and citizens

A number of easily accessible field sites are being identified for the project to showcase local biodiversity and stimulate discussions on key issues affecting biodiversity. One such site is Echo Heights in Chemainus, a controversial 52 acre mixed forest that is under urban development threat and unique in the area given its size, high biological diversity, extensive accessible trials, and close proximity (within walking distance) to Chemainus and local schools.

We have also been exploring the Chemainus River as an example of riparian  biodiversity and learning about complex water issues related to development and land use conflicting with community and ecosystem health. We have explored shorelines in Saltair and on Thetis Island to learn about marine biodiversity.

Appropriate sites for forest, marine and riparian components are continually being identified based the criteria of easy accessiblity, safe, permitted without tresspassing, minimal or no driving, and biodiverse or otherwise biologically interesting). Your suggestions are welcome.

The project includes a diversity of fun and educational field activities that aim to bring together volunteers, students, teachers, youth, First Nations experts and scientists to learn about local flora and fauna and their importance to human well-being. Some of the educational materials anticipated include basic information, handbooks, posters, and sample learning-units for school curricula. Your ideas are welcome! 

Donations are always welcome to support activities and make educational materials available at low or no cost to schools and donations of any amount are appreciated!  Cheques can be made out to "POLIS Project" (mailing address:  POLIS Projecton Ecological Governance, Centre for Global Studies, Sedgewick C Building, PO Box 1700 STN C, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC V8W 2Y2) and all contributions will be gratefully acknowledged on the materials unless anonymity is requested. Upon request, tax receipts for charitable donations can be issued by mail for donations above $10.

Many individuals, organisations and businesses, have offered their support. Each and every contribution is invaluable. See our acknowledgements page for a summary of the generous contributions and commitments to supporting the project so far.

Participation is open to all interested individuals and organisations. The only requirement is a commitment to respectful interactions for all involved in this collaborative journey of sharing and learning. 

General project information
Kelly Bannister  phone: 250-472-5016 or 246-9722 email: 

Community Liaison
Kathy Wachs phone 250-416-0382 


View the our project newsletter Biodiversity Matters and see our media reports to find out what we were up to in our first year of pilot activities:

Story: "Pilot biodiversity project coming to Chemainus." Published in Chemainus Courier May 2007

Story: "North Cowichan nixes Echo Height study." Published in Ladysmith Chronicle May 8, 2007. Letters to the Editor in response to story  "Study leader explains Echo Heights project" by K. Bannister, Published in Ladysmith Chronicle May 15, 2007 and "Misunderstanding over Echo Heights study" by M. Kiemele, Published in Ladysmith Chronicle May 15, 2007. 

Story: "Echo project to proceed without official blessing." Published in Cowichan Newsleader May 12, 2007. 

Story: "Echo Heights  biodiversity study to proceed without council's blessing." Published in: Ladysmith Chronicle May 15, 2007. 

Editorial: "Nothing malicious about Echo Heights  biodiversity project"
Published in: Ladysmith Chronicle May 15, 2007. 

Opinion: "Echo Heights Wrangling Continues" by Don Maroc. Published in Cowichan Valley News Leader May 23, 2007

Story: "Interest in biodiversity education growing locally." Published in Chemainus Courier June 2007.

Story: "Thetis Environmentalist sees silver lining in council snub." Published in Thetis Island Quarterly, Vol 60, no. 2 Summer 2007.

Story: "Ethnobotanist to speak on role of plants in sustaining life and culture." Published in: Ladysmith Chronicle June 12, 2007.

Story: "Walking in the Rain." Published in Ladysmith Chronicle June 19, 2007.

UVic home page: Outstanding People, Real life experience, Making a Difference features the Chemainus Biodiversity Education Project on June 20, 2007.

Story: "Biodiversity enthusiasts explore forests to the sea" and  photo: "Dr. Nancy Turner and Elder August Sylvester". Published in Chemainus Courier August 2007.

Letter to the Editor: "Echo Heights medicine has a purpose and must be protected" by August Sylvester. Published in Chemainus Courier August 2007. Page 7

Opinion: "Echo Heights a veritable pharmacy in the woods" by Don Maroc. Published in Duncan News Leader and Pictorial on Aug 8, 2007.

Letter to the Editor: "Don't underestimate the significance of Echo Heights" by Kelly Bannister. Published in Duncan News Leader and Pictorial on Sept 8, 2007 (note: letter is second from top of page).

Story: "Need for water supply connects all communities" and "All eyes on the birds" and "Halalt plans an Honour Our River Day in September".  Published in Chemainus Courier September 2007.

Story: "Halalt Honour Our River Day participants asking for watershed management plan" and "Signing a Pledge" and "Four year old Katia holds a coho fry". Published in Chemainus Courier October 2007.

Letter to the Editor: "Chemainus River must be protected" by Budd Hall. Published in Chemainus Courier October 2007.

Story: "Halalt takes its water message to University of Victoria group". Published in Cheaminus Courier November 2007.

Story: "Local Eelgrass as vital as tropical rainforests". Published in Chemainus Courier December 2007.

Related Resources and Links

About our logo

What could better represent biodiversity in our backyards than the common tree frog who sits on atop the shared letters in "bio" and "diversity" and playfully reminds us of interconnections between all things living? We should pay attention to frogs because they are particularly sensitive to environmental degredation and are considered indicators of  ecological health. Thanks to Mark Kiemele for creating our great logo. Stay tuned for ways to support the project by purchasing your logo T-shirt and other nifty products soon!

Page last updated: 12/09/2013