The Courtenay River is awash in life and death these days. Spawned out salmon litter the banks of the river. Gulls have gathered to feed on the carcasses and countless diving ducks are feasting on salmon eggs washed downstream. With death comes new life.
Also returning to the Courtenay River at this time of year is the occasional rare Silver Rivercart. The lifecycle of the Silver Rivercart mirrors that of the salmon. The male rivercart uses its endgate to scoop out loose gravel and create a deep depression in the stream bed in which the female lays its eggs.
After spending the winter in the stream small juvenile rivercarts emerge from the eggs and make their way down to the estuary where they adapt to the salinity of ocean water. Little is know of the adult stage of the Silver Rivercart. It is suspected that great schools of this species make their way from the sheltered waters of the Salish Sea to the dense feeding grounds of the North Pacific Gyre. Following four years in the ocean they make their way back to their home streams to spawn and die.
The cycle begins again.
Silver Rivercarts are an endangered species. The large nests of the spawning carts can cause irreparable damage to key salmon spawning areas and as a result salmon enhancement projects often have a component that focuses on the capture and removal of the carts before they can harm salmon eggs.
Only the occasional cart is now seen where in the past the streams and rivers feeding into the Courtenay River used to be alive with the thrashing and crashing of wire end gates as dominant males competed for the best females. This sighting provides hope that one day the Silver Rivercart will return in numbers to the watersheds of Vancouver Island.
This is the ninth species account of the Vancouver Island Shopping Carts series. Julian Montague at The Stray Shopping Cart Project has developed a method of classifying stray carts that might be of interest to those wanting to learn more about species of carts in their own area. Researchers should also consult Rock, Paper, Lizard for detailed species accounts of Lower Mainland/Vancouver carts.