• More seals like this one are returning to B.C.'s Upper Victoria Harbour following a huge 40-year cleanup project. (Photo: Kasey Eriksen/CanGeo Photo Club)

One of the last major steps in the four-decade-long Rock Bay cleanup project in Victoria was recently concluded in the Victoria Upper Harbour, leaving the bay cleaner than it has been in more than 50 years.

The $500-million project’s goal is to remove toxic sediment left by a 19th-century power plant. Coal tar, the main waste product, was dumped directly into the surrounding area, causing chemicals to seep into the land for the next 150 years, making Rock Bay one of the most contaminated bodies of water in Canada.

Today, the harbour and the Victoria Migratory Bird Sanctuary are experiencing resurgence in wildlife. Seals, beavers, orcas, sea lions and falcons are only some of the animals to have reappeared on the West Coast.

“We now are back to having remarkable costal and marine wildlife,” said Vancouver biologist Jacques Sirois. “All while in an expanding urban setting. It’s amazing. The recovery of the wildlife has made the sanctuary more relevant than ever. It now has more than just birds and covers more than just the harbour.”

Sirois said that now that the harbour is at its cleanest in 50 years, the next step is to try and bring the herring back. Studies have proven that herring spawns attract dozens of different types of mammals and birds to the region.

“The collapse of the herring stock due to overfishing means we have much fewer fish than we had 40 years ago,” said Sirois. “To bring the rest of the wildlife back, we need the pacific herring.”