MABRRI Research Projects

MABRRI's research and community engagement coordinators, project coordinators, VIU students, and faculty associates work with community partners to create and conduct research projects that advance our understanding of people and nature, and the interaction between these, within the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region. Listed below are some of the projects that MABRRI is currently working on within the biosphere region. For other projects we are working on across Vancouver Island, check out the other VIU Research Projects.

Projects in the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region

Nanoose Bay Recreational Shellfish Reserve Harvest Monitoring

In collaboration with the Nanoose Economic Development Corporation (NEDC), this project aims to determine whether recreational and commercial clam harvesting pressures could be impacting clam populations and habitat in the public use area at the Nanoose Bay Recreational Shellfish Reserve. This study aims to provide a comprehensive look at the current harvesting practices in the study area and provide recommendations to improve the sustainability of harvesting practices. 

The first phase of this project occurred in 2020, which included writing a literature review to provide relevant background context to the impacts associated with harvesting and of sustainable harvesting practices in coastal BC; field observations on-site during the clam harvesting season to identify the extent of harvesting activity, as well as characteristics and patterns of harvesting in the study area; and interviews were conducted to provide insight into historical patterns and the significance of clam harvesting to supplement the study.

The second phase of this project, which was initiated in March 2021 is looking to collect additional on-site observations, particularly during the peak harvesting season and dive into more of the limitations identified in the first phase o the project, including conducting clam abundance surveys before and after the peak harvesting season.

MABRRI shellfish harvesting

The View from 2117: Human Actions, Consequences, and Perspectives on Mountain Regions

VIU has joined the University of Alberta and a handful of other universities across Canada as part of the Canadian Mountain Network (CMN). Established in 2016, the CMN aims to engage in collaborative, interdisciplinary research to address issues and relationships between mountain environments, economies, and society. Since it was established, approximately 40 reports, all focusing on various topics, have been published and made publically available. In 2019, the CMN was funded by the Networks of Centres of Excellence to continue research within mountain regions.

As part of the CMN, VIU’s and MABRRI’s research project titled The View from 2117: Human Actions, Consequences, and Perspectives on Mountain Regions will examine the ways in which individuals and collective behaviour, population growth, regulatory regimes, and societal change have affected and will affect First Nations, mountain communities, and mountain environments over the next century. The project will focus on the MABR, examining the human nature connection associated with the region. The methodology for this project will be multi-modal and will include demographic analyses, indicator development, field research, surveys, focus groups, and psychological assessments. Lead researchers for this project include: Pam Shaw (MABRRI and Geography), Geraldine Manson (Elder in Residence), Sylvie Lafreniere (Sociology), Lindsay McCunn (Psychology), Maureen Reed (UNESCO), Lindsay Chase (University of Victoria), and Maria Ines Paez Ferriera (Instituto Federal de Educação, Ciência e Tecnologia Fluminense, Brazil). Project partners include representatives from Qualicum, K’omoks, and Snaw-naw-as First Nations, industry partners, and local government representatives. With an interdisciplinary team and partners leading the research, the project will ideally result in lessened human/nature impacts and improved policy and regulatory frameworks in the MABR.

A beach within the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere

Forage Fish Spawning Habitat Monitoring

The Forage Fish Spawning Habitat Monitoring Project, for which MABRRI is seeking to identify where and when Pacific sand lance and surf smelt are spawning along the mid-Vancouver Island and Gulf Island coastlines, began in October 2017. Forage fish are one of the most critical linkages between the lower trophic levels and upper trophic level species, such as Pacific salmon and killer whales. MABRRI is following similar methods to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, whom have undertaken these spawning habitat surveys for decades.

This project, which is part of an ongoing initiative to involve citizen scientists in forage fish spawning habitat monitoring, is minimizing existing data gaps by positively identifying active forage fish spawning habitat through the collection of sediment samples from locations with known favourable habitat characteristics. In order to recruit volunteers and maintain their involvement in the program, forage fish sampling training sessions are frequently hosted along the coast. MABRRI collects the samples from the citizen scientists and analyzes them for presence of embryos. After analysis, all results are passed on to the respective groups, ensuring that citizen scientists are engaged throughout the entire process. 

Currently, MABRRI is working with 9 citizen science groups to sample the  88 beach stations that are established along the Eastern coastline of Vancouver Island, from Deep Bay south to Cowichan Bay, including Gabriola Island, Thetis Island, and the Pender Islands. Along with the collected sediment samples, beach characteristics are recorded and photos are taken in order to gain a more holistic idea of how the beaches change throughout the year and aid in identifying long-term trends. All results that are collected by MABRRI and our citizen scientists are input into the Strait of Georgia Data Centre, ensuring that all data collected is transparent and available to be used to inform habitat preservation and conservation. Once this network has generated a multi-year data set, it will then be possible for our partners to propose evidence-based modifications to policy and management practices pertaining to Pacific sand lance and surf smelt spawning habitat in the Salish Sea. 

If you or your stewardship group are interested in contributing to this continuously growing project, please contact Alanna Vivani, MABRRI's Environmental Project Coordinator, at for more details.

Shellfish sampling in the region

he MABR Amazing Places

The Amazing Places project is based on a mapping project launched by the Fundy Biosphere Reserve in New Brunswick. It began with the desire to guide visitors beyond the national park boundaries, and especially promote hiking on the Fundy Footpath. Subsequently, three biosphere reserves in Ontario have launched an Amazing Places pilot project, which will highlight the biosphere regions’ unique environmental and cultural significance.

The project was brought to British Columbia in 2016 through a collaboration between the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region (MABR) and Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism. A community nomination process took place in September 2016 to select 10 Amazing Places in the MABR. Following the do no harm model, Amazing Places are chosen in locations that can handle increased visitation without compromising what makes the place Amazing.

The 10 Amazing Places within the MABR include: Top Bridge, Heritage Forest, Cathedral Grove, Parksville Community Park, Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, Milner Gardens & Woodland, Englishman River Falls Provincial Park, Cameron Lake, Notch Hill, and Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park. These Amazing Places have received interpretive signage, online promotion, and high quality photo and video coverage. Our region will also be promoted across Canada through the national UNESCO biosphere reserve network.

MABR Amazing Places

Wetland Mapping in the Regional District of Nanaimo

MABRRI and the Regional District of Nanaimo’s Drinking Water and Watershed Protection (DWWP) Program just finished up our 5 year agreement that had been established in order to conduct the Wetland Mapping and Monitoring project. The project began in 2015 and was developed from recognition that there was a lack of baseline data on wetlands in the region. Through the five years of work, MABRRI mapped multiple wetlands in order to determine where they are situated and how they are classified. Additionally, in the 4th and 5th years of the project, the team installed instrumentation to begin to understand what connection they have to groundwater recharge. This information is important for informing land use decisions in the region. Overall, research aims to inform policy and planning around wetlands in the region in order to better protect these important hydrologic features and ecosystems.

Following the final year of the 5-year agreement, it was decided that longer-term monitoring of the instrumented wetlands would be important to carry forward – allowing for important data to be gathered from the equipment that was installed. Moving forward, in collaboration with two volunteer groups, the Quennell Lake Watershed Stewardship Society (QLWSS) and the Arrowsmith Groundwater Alliance (AGWA), the 6 priority sites will be revisited each quarter (April, July, November, January) to continue identifying seasonal variations at the sites. Additionally, the volunteers from the AGWA will be assisting the MABRRI team with downloading the data at the three instrumented sites in the French Creek and Big Qualicum Water Regions. During each site visit, the data from the piezometers and rain gauge, as well as the photos from the trail cameras will be downloaded.

The MABRRI team continues to work with Alan Gilchrist, VIU Geography professor, to analyze and interpret the data collected. All of the data collected in 2021 will be compiled and shared with the RDN. Additionally, an overview of the data collected will be summarized and shared with the public and volunteers.

All previously written reports can be found on Research Reports and Resources. Also, the MABRRI team regularly updates RDN Get Involved for wetlands.

MABRRI Student in a regional wetland

MABR BioBlitz

Every April, the MABR hosts an annual BioBlitz event in conjunction with the Brant Wildlife Festival. A BioBlitz is a rapid biological survey of flora and fauna that embraces citizen science, connecting local community members, students, faculty, knowledge holders, naturalists, and scientists to identify as many species as possible within the allocated time frame. Conducting a BioBlitz provides a snapshot of the biodiversity and species richness within the region. Further, BioBlitzes increase our knowledge of changes to species abundance, habitat for Species at Risk, as well as changes in invasive species distribution over time in our region. The data collected during the annual event helps inform the management of sensitive habitats and ecosystems within the region.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the MABR has restructured this event to allow for social distancing and a broader view of the biodiversity in our region. This event will utilize the iNaturalist app, and will be the MABR’s first ever Biosphere-wide Blitz! The Biosphere Blitz will span across three days from April 16th through 18th, 2021. The event is free and open to everyone at all ages and levels of knowledge. The Biosphere Blitz will take place within the boundaries of the MABR, which ranges from Nanoose Bay to Qualicum Bay.

If you have any questions about the event, please contact Mandy Hobkirk, MABR Coordinator, at It is expected that participants will follow provincial regulations and maintain social distancing while taking part in this event.

MABRRI Bioblitz

Snaw-naw-as First Nation Garden Café

In the summer of 2019, MABRRI, in partnership with Snaw-naw-as Nation and Island Health, created the Garden Café. Featuring six weeks of culinary teachings, the Garden Café ran from August to October at the Snaw-naw-as Heath Centre. Each week, the leading instructor offered several simple ways to prepare vegetables. For example, the first week the instructor focused on zucchini and provided recipes and cooking instructions on how to prepare zucchini Provençal, zucchini sage and brown butter, and zucchini and herbs.

MABRRI Snaw-naw-as Education Outreach Program

Global Observational Research Initiative in Alpine Environments (GLORIA)

In the summer of 2016 MABRRI partnered with Kristina Swerhun, to continue long-term alpine monitoring on four summits of Mount Arrowsmith. The aim of the project is to develop long-term, world-wide databased of standardized observations of alpine biodiversity, vegetation patterns and mountain-top temperatures. Monitoring and data collection takes place every five years to assess any visible changes. Information aims to capture the effects of climate change on these unique alpine ecosystems.

MABRRI Global Observational Research Initiative Alpine Environments

Marine Debris Surveys

Starting in 2021, MABRRI is conducting marine debris surveys along beaches within the MABR. The survey approach follows the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) methods for marine debris surveys, as part of their Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project. Through NOAA’s survey methods, rather than solely making sure the MABR’s beaches are clean, we are providing data to an international database that amalgamates data collection from local beaches into a larger context. The goal of NOAA’s initiative is to utilize data collected from beaches around the world to develop more effective mitigation strategies to prevent the impacts of marine debris. MABRRI will be conducting a debris survey 4 times per year, once each season, starting with two sites in the MABR (French Creek and Qualicum Beach), and hopefully expanding to a few more beaches in the near future.

MABR beach marine debris

Shelly Creek Education and Outreach Project

At the beginning of 2021, MABRRI began working with the Mid-Vancouver Island Habitat Enhancement Society (MVIHES) to develop an education and outreach program for residents who live near Shelly Creek in Parksville. MVIHES has identified that this creek is in need of increased efforts to improve water balance, by enhancing water conservation on the surrounding properties. A survey has recently been released to a selection of residents in the study area, which aims to get an idea of what residents currently feel their relationship to Shelly Creek is, and if they already have some form of water conservation implemented on their properties. From June to February, we will then work with MVIHES to increase awareness of the importance of the watershed and inform residents on ways they can help to maintain a healthy creek. This education and outreach program will involve developing brochures and posters, social media campaigns, and possibly some webinars.

MABRRI Shelly Creek

Promoting the SDGs in the MABR

This project aims to increase awareness of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region (MABR). Introduced globally in 2015 by the United Nations, the SDGs are comprised of 17 goals which call all world nations to action in order to achieve a more sustainable future for all. The SDGs address social, economic, and cultural prosperity while simultaneously caring for and protecting the earth. Successfully achieving the SDGs requires increasing awareness of them and promoting local and global change.

MABRRI received funding through Colleges and Institutes Canada’s (CICan) Career-Launcher Internship program to hire an SDG Ambassador. The SDG Ambassador will lead the project and engage the MABR community in the SDGs through social media campaigns, virtual presentations and workshops, and by discussions with local businesses and organizations. The final deliverable will include a series of short videos that further increase awareness of the SDGs in the MABR. Once we collect information on how organizations within the region are contributing to the 17 goals, we will share best practices with the network of UNESCO biosphere reserves across Canada.

If you live in the MABR and are interested in participating in the discussion about how you or your group contributes to the SDGs, please contact Mandy Hobkirk, MABR Coordinator, at

The MABR Youth Program

The MABR Youth Program incorporates hands-on activities and outdoor field trips to provide experiential learning opportunities. There are three main workshops that instructors can choose from for elementary school grades and one workshop for high school grades. The program is available to any school or organization within the MABR cost-free. However, each class will be responsible for their own transportation, when applicable. The workshop durations are approximations.

The elementary grade programs include:

  • Coastal Workshop: This workshop will explore the connection between humans and aquatic ecosystems. The workshop includes a presentation, classroom activities, and a beach seine at a local beach. (Approx. 4 – 5 hours)
  • Terrestrial Workshop: This workshop will explore local biodiversity, ecosystem services, and environmental sustainability. The workshop includes a classroom presentation, classroom activities, and a field trip to a forested area where students will participate in a plant scavenger hunt. (Approx. 4 – 5 hours)
  • Sustainable Development Workshop*: In the fall of 2019, MABRRI will be offering a sustainable development workshop. The workshop will include a presentation and interactive city building activity. *This workshop is still being developed. (Approx. 2 – 3 hours)

The high school program is focused on the Sustainable Development Goals. The workshop includes a classroom presentation and an interactive city building activity. (Approx. 1.5 hours)

MABR Youth Program

Coastal Forest Plant Phenology Research and Monitoring Pilot

In partnership with the Ministry of Forests, BC Parks, and Milner Gardens & Woodland, MABRRI is working to assess and monitor climate change effects on local plant phenology – the timing of seasonally reoccurring events such as bud break, leaf size, flower development, and ripe fruit. By monitoring the growing seasons of different coastal plants, and by comparing these growing seasons to microclimate data, we can work to identify any potential changing trends in the growing seasons of Vancouver Island’s ecosystems.

This project is monitoring phenological changes in native plant species at seven research sites: Milner Gardens & Woodland, Thetis Lake Regional Park, Mount Arrowsmith Massif Regional Park, Bowser Ecological Reserve, Koksilah River Provincial Park, North Cowichan, and VIU Woodlot. Microclimate stations and a series of trail cameras have been installed at all sites to link phenological records to local climate. MABRRI, student researchers, and citizen scientists also collect in-person data weekly during the summer and biweekly during the spring and fall at Milner Gardens & Woodland. Data collection will continue for a number of years in order to see how growing seasons may be shifting with changing climate patterns.

We depend on our volunteers to help with in-person data collection throughout the growing season. If you are interested in joining us in the field to observe and record phenological changes in our species, please contact Jessica Pyett, MABRRI’s Research & Community Engagement Coordinator at

MABRRI Coastal Forest Plant Phenology Research Monitoring equipment

Snaw-Naw-As Garden of Spiritual Healing

Snaw-naw-as First Nations completed the construction of the Community Health Centre in 2013. The plans to site a Garden of Spiritual Healing adjacent to the Health Centre have been in progress for many years, but have only recently moved forward. As is often the case, shortages in funding, human resources, and project management time to devote to the garden have limited the capacity for carrying out this initiative. However, through new collaborations with the MABRRI and community support, plans to establish the garden have re-emerged and progressed quickly. A garden committee consisting of Snaw-naw-as First Nation community members and Elders has helped guide the development of the garden. Ultimately, the goal of the garden is that it will provide four complementary uses: community education, health and wellness, food security, and a community gathering space.

MABRRI broke ground and began construction of the Snaw-naw-as Garden of Spiritual Healing at the beginning of May 2017. By mid-May there were Snaw-Naw-As Elders in the garden planting vegetables in the garden boxes that had been finished and put in place. Each year, MABRRI continues to work with Snaw-naw-as to construct more aspects of the site. To date, MABRRI has made significant progress having built 14 garden boxes, a greenhouse, a toolshed, a pathway, a fence to enclose everything in an attempt to stop deer from getting to the vegetable garden, and a community smokehouse.

MABRRI Snaw-naw-as Garden Spiritual Healing garden boxes

Ecological Research as Education Network (EREN) Permanent Forest Plot Project (PFPP)

The Ecological Research as Education Network (EREN) developed the Permanent Forest Plot Project (PFPP), which involves universities throughout North America; students and faculty from different institutions are given a strict protocol to follow when they are establishing their forest plots. The goal of the PFPP is to establish permanent forest plots in a range of different ecosystems, which will allow students and faculty to observe and compare different aspects, such as biomass, carbon sequestering abilities, species diversity and presence or absence of invasive species, in varying ecosystems.

In 1999, Dr. Glen Jamieson and the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Foundation (MABF) established a 100m x 100m forest plot at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park. The MABF collected the location, size and type of each tree in the plot but never returned to continue monitoring the sites after their establishment. In 2016, MABRRI established two interior, 20m x 20m forest plots, using the EREN protocol, within the MABF plot and two edge plots outside the MABF plot. In addition to the sites at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park, the MABRRI student researchers established two new plots at Milner Gardens & Woodland in February 2017; there was one interior and one edge plot established. The MABRRI team will continue to monitor each of these sites every five years, documenting the species, size, location and status (alive or dead) of each of the trees within each plot. All collected data is uploaded on the EREN database; therefore, along with Vancouver Island University, other institution’s faculty and students can use our data to calculate different parameters, including biomass, carbon sequestering abilities, and species richness and make comparisons between the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region (MABR) and the region they live in. The MABRRI student researchers will be able to recognize how these regions of the MABR are changing and how they may be effected differently by climate change.

MABRRI Student Erin measuring tree diameter

International Journal of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves

The publication of scientific research in journals is the primary means of disseminating scholarly ideas, concepts, theories, and findings.  For researchers interested in the 701 Biosphere Reserves [3] currently designated by the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), an in-depth review initiated by Prof. Martin Price in 2013 and continued by Dr. Pamela Shaw in 2015 (to be published in a future issue of the Journal) revealed that a wealth of information across a wide range of disciplines was being published.  However, given differences in terminology and the great diversity of publications involved, the materials developed were not always available to individuals involved in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR). In addition, obtaining articles at no cost was not a simple matter for biosphere reserve staff and volunteers who were not affiliated with academic institutions.  Beyond this, a mechanism for bringing together information on the range of community-based and applied, practical activities currently undertaken within many biosphere reserves was simply not available.

A solution proposed was the development of a new journal for biosphere reserves.  While there are certainly other reputable scientific journals that accept submissions on this topic, this new journal would address a host of issues that present barriers to sharing and disseminating research across the WNBR and all those interested in what takes place within biosphere reserves.

This new journal is fully interdisciplinary: instead of focusing on a selected scientific research sub-area, it is a resource for sharing information across disciplines and into practice, promoting the cross-pollinization of ideas and creating new research connections.  It can therefore be regarded as a contribution to the implementation of the Lima Action Plan for the MAB Programme and its WNBR (2016-2025).  This calls not only for applied research in biosphere reserves, but also for an active and open interdisciplinary network of scientists and knowledge holders working in and with biosphere reserves, with a joint research and knowledge exchange agenda.  We hope that this journal will become a key mechanism for this emerging network.

The journal is, in perpetuity, a digital, Open Access, subscription-free publication. This makes for more cost-effective publication, reduces the ecological footprint of the journal, and allows for full-colour/full-spectrum production across range of digital formats.  This new format is part of a wave of new journals that are abandoning the confines of paper publications and embracing a digital future that includes video, audio, full-colour mapping, and interactive formats that are not limited by the challenges of publication costs and hard copy dissemination. This format also allows for a much shorter delay between submission and publication.

MABRRI International Journal UNESCO Biosphere Reserves