In some ways, Bamfield is exactly what one would expect of a remote town on the western-most edge of Canada. Sandwiched between seemingly endless tracts of forest and the wild Pacific Ocean, Bamfield has around 150 permanent residents, two general stores, few paved roads, and more boats than cars. But 100 km from the nearest McDonalds, Walmart, or movie theatre, and over 200 km from the nearest airport is something that most people wouldn’t expect: a state of the art marine research centre.
Founded in 1972, Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre (BMSC) is jointly run by the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary. It’s unique location on Barkley Sound offers researchers, university students, and high school students limitless opportunities to study and learn in the great outdoors.
Our class was luck enough to take a weekend trip to Bamfield, an incredible trip which went by much too quickly. In our short trip we were able to watch sea lions play in the waves, walk through the awe inspiring temperate rainforest, examine the incredible diversity of plankton in the water, and of course explore the beaches and tide pools!
As a marine science centre, many opportunities at Bamfield are focused on the wonderful diversity of habitats and marine life that can be found in the surrounding area. From subtidal benthos to rocky shores, sheltered bays to exposed sea stacks, we got the chance to explore habitats that many students may only have heard about in classrooms or textbooks.
Although it is a marine science centre, Bamfield is also a great place to explore the terrestrial and freshwater environments, with some courses focusing entirely on the remarkable Temperate Rainforest ecosystem in which Bamfield is situated. Located at the northern terminus of the West Coast Trail, Bamfield provides the chance to explore this world-renown trail, as well as the forest it passes through, including Canada’s Largest tree, the Cheewhat Cedar! Unfortunately, due to the shortness of our trip – and the fact that this is an invertebrates class – we were not able to see this giant, but we were still able to experience the majesty of the rainforest, and marvel at the wonders it contains.
As a temperate rainforest, there is very high annual precipitation (often over 300 cm). We were very lucky and the rain held off for our trip to Bamfield, but we were still able to see the benefits of having such high precipitation, especially when it comes to amphibians! On our first night in Bamfield, we saw a Red-Backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereus), one of the several amphibians that can be found around Bamfield, including the Red-Legged Frog (Rana aurora) and Western Toad (Anaxyrus boreas), both species of special concern!
To find out more about how you could spend time in Bamfield, check out the BMSC website, where they have opportunities for studying, volunteering, or working at the marine station.