11/15/2010

Ella Beach: Big Trees On The Edge

Big trees on the edge along the coast near Sooke
Vancouver Island has 3,500 kilometers of coastline, and along much of that you will find trees. These trees are at the edge living a very precarious existence. This is where the sea meets the land, and the water meets the wood. It is a wild and ever changing battlefield, and ultimately the land and trees give way to the persistence of the wind and waves. Sooke's west-facing Ella beach is a great place to see the interaction of land and sea, and witness how big trees cope in this dangerous zone.

Looking up at a downed Sitka spruce waiting to slide into the ocean
Wind, rain, and waves all slam into land here, constantly shaping the trees while eroding the land around them. On the night of December 15, 2006 a mega-storm hit the south coast. Hurricane force winds of 158 km/hour were recorded at Race Rocks, not far from here. The storm knocked down thousands of trees along the coast that night, and many ended up in the ocean becoming drift logs.

Eventually the tree in the distance will join others on the beach
Many of the biggest trees along Ella beach are Sitka spruce. These trees are not found further than about 80 km from the ocean, and have adapted to the salt spray near the surf. It is believed that not only do these trees tolerate salty or brackish conditions, but actually benefit from the various minerals found in ocean spray and salty soil.

Sitka spruce often have shallow root systems as many begin life on top of downed trees or 'nurse logs'. This makes them susceptible to blow down later in life. Sitka spruce can live for up to 800 years, but it is unlikely that those growing in exposed, easily eroded areas will make it that far. The oldest trees I saw along Ella beach are probably half that age.

Big Sitka spruce along Ella beach in a low bank, sheltered setting
There are also big Douglas-fir along the coast here. Many of them are also being swept into the ocean. Some will end up on the beach somewhere in the area. Others may make a major crossing on ocean currents and wash up on beaches on the Hawaiian Islands. Historically such logs making the crossing from North America were sought after by the Hawaiians for building canoes.

This Douglas-fir holds on against all odds
The terrain along this stretch of coastline varies from walk-on beach at the Ella Road access, to towering sheer cliffs closer to town. Hiking here you can see the graphic results of the ocean/land interface as everything is eventually eroded away.

This Douglas-fir, anchored by roots growing into the cliff, hangs suspended in the air
This ever changing, dynamic zone where the ocean meets the land constantly provides interesting surprises. Ella beach in Sooke is an excellent place to view big trees on the edge - a perilous spot where the ocean always wins.

Getting There


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