The undeveloped lands surrounding Esquimalt Harbour, particularly those owned by the Department of National Defense, have some of the few remaining natural shorelines and upland natural areas in the region. Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Site, at the western entrance to Esquimalt Harbour, have several natural pocket beaches, rocky shorelines and many hectares of intact Garry oak and Douglas-fir forests.
The numerous small rocky islets in the harbour provide a refuge for native plants, wildlife and birds.
Approximately 30% of the seafloor in Esquimalt Harbour is vegetated with large algae, including kelps
, and eelgrass
beds. The most common kelp species found are: sugar kelp (Laminaria saccharina
), bull kelp (Nereocystis leutkeana
), wing kelp (Alaria
sp.), ribbed kelp (Costaria costata
spp, Japanese weed (Sargassum muticum
) and acid kelp (Desmarestia
Red algae commonly found in the harbour include Neoaghardhiella
sp. a filamentous red alga common in areas with softer substrates. On bedrock and boulder substrates Odonthalia floccosa
are more common, and in shallower areas bladed red algae (Mazzaella, Chondracanthus, Rhodoglossum
) and articulated coralline algae (Corallina
) were more abundant.
Green algae covers approximately 15% of the subtidal area of Esquimalt Harbour, frequently associated with kelp beds at the entrance to the harbour. Common species are sea lettuce
) and Enteromorpha
In the gravelly mud/sand sediments at the entrance to the harbour and western shores of the upper harbour, are many burrows of “infauna” – invertebrates such as burrowing shrimp, segmented worms, bivalves. In the large area of the harbour floor that is covered with wood debris, there are no such burrows evident. The dominant macrofauna occurring attached to the wood debris are plumose anemones (Metridium senile
and M. giganteum
). These anemone species are also common on debris in other areas such as off the graving dock, as well as on rocky substrates. On coarser substrate another common anemone is Urticina
species are common throughout the harbour: Dungeness (Cancer magister
), graceful crab (C. gracilis
) and red rock crab (C. productus
). Crabs are generally more commonly seen in the upper and outer areas of the harbour, and near docks. As crabs are generally quite mobile, abundance and distribution may vary with season and other factors.
Other invertebrates commonly found on rocky substrates at the harbour entrance are red sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus fransiscanus
) and California sea cucumber (Parastichopus californicus
). These are also seen around the Inskip Islands, along with piddock clams (Zirfaea pilsbryi
). Piddocks are usually found in clay and coarse gravel substrates.
Surveys have shown that flatfish are also more common at the harbour entrance and off the Inskip Islands. Schools of striped perch (Embiotoca lateralis
) and pile perch (Rhacochilus vacca
) are common in eelgrass beds and around kelp. Other fish often seen in eelgrass beds are pipefish (Syngnathus griseolineatus
) and northern ronquils (Ronquilus jordani
), and in areas with dense kelp cover, tubesnouts (Aulorhynchus flavidus
) are common.