Pebble shoreline with reflection of trees in waterCoastal Fusion, © Laurie MacBride

Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived on the coast all my life, or maybe I’m simply attracted by “edges”: my eye is inevitably drawn to the places where sea and land meet – the constantly moving interface of brine and terra firma.

The specifics change along with the weather and tides, so that on any given beach, the location of the edge varies from moment to moment – it’s never exactly the same. And if you watch closely enough, over time, you’ll see an immense variety of curves, angles, reflections, shadows and shapes along and beside that moving edge.

The photo above was made at Pruth Bay on Calvert Island, on a calm summer’s day at a fairly high tide. Standing on the pier over the beach, I was struck by the textures and subtle colours of the pebble shoreline, and with the water’s reflection of the forest’s edge. The moment seemed like a perfect blending of the water and the land: our planet Earth in miniature.

The photo below was made further south, at Drumbeg Park on Gabriola Island, on a winter day when a light breeze was blowing.

Wave hitting shell midden beach, Gabriola Island

The sea was active that day and the tide was definitely high – in fact, we had just experienced a “king tide”, an exceptionally high tide that occurs only infrequently (although with increasing sea level rise, such heights will become more and more common).

Drumbeg beach, like many on the BC coast, is a shell midden, composed of broken clam, barnacle, geoduck, mussel and other mollusc shells – the waste products from human dinners over millennia. Shell middens along our coast can be many metres deep, indicating continuous occupation by aboriginal people for up to 10,000 years – perhaps as many as 12,000 in some places. In the sites that supported large villages, shell middens extend up from the water’s edge a considerable distance into the forest.

Because the shells are predominantly white, middens are highly visible; from a distance they often resemble a sandy tropical beach. But many of the smaller middens are harder to spot, because they’re underwater even at the lowest of tides – an indicator of the amount of sea level rise we’ve already experienced, since the end of the last ice age. When we’re kayaking close to shore, we see these middens below, as bright white patches on the sea floor: a vivid reminder that on this coast, what constitutes the “edge” is always changing.

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About Laurie MacBride, Eye on Environment

Photographer focused on nature and nautical on the BC coast

6 responses »

  1. Lauren says:

    Hi Laurie I like the second photograph because it shows whats on the beach.

  2. ehpem says:

    Hi Laurie – I love that top photograph. Very subtle and simple and the perspective is captivating too – at first it looks like a close up of a coarse-grained sand beach.

    There is also a natural phenomenon call shell hash which results in sometimes very thick layers of small pieces of shell, usually subtidally and often covering quite large areas, and very white. So, it can be quite difficult to distinguish a midden from a natural shell deposit because, as you mention, in some areas of the coast shell middens are eroding onto the beaches, sometimes out of the beach surfaces and in some parts of the coast they are now drowned from changing sea levels.

    You probably would have enjoyed the talk linked below (the link includes some information too) as it is about shores near to you. I went to it and was very interested. There are some publications in scientific journals about this topic as well, but they usually require some kind of library access. If you google “fedje intertidal archaeology” you will get lots of hits.

  3. HeatherS says:

    Great post, Laurie! I loved the photos, and your discussion of the changing nature of edges. I think that’s especially true out here on the coast where we experience lots of tidal changes, shorelines, weather fronts, and mountain peaks. I’m glad I found your site – looking forward to exploring it further!

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