Botanical Beach is located on San Juan Point in Botany Bay at the northern end of Juan de Fuca Provincial Park on the south coast of Vancouver Island, about 50 miles (80 km) west-northwest of Victoria and 2 miles (3 km) south-southwest of Port Renfrew, British Columbia. Juan de Fuca Provincial Park was created in 1996 by combining the former China Beach Provincial Park, Loss Creek Park, Parkinson Creek Park, and Botanical Beach Park. Botanical Beach is the northern terminus of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail which is 29 miles (47 km) long and follows the coastline south to China Beach at the southern end of Juan de Fuca Provincial Park. The coastal trail was originally used to provide rescuers access to shipwreck survivors. The trail has been upgraded and maintained over the years and is now a very popular hiking trail similar but not connected to the West Coast Trail in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve that starts north of Port Renfrew. The purpose of Juan de Fuca Provincial Park is to protect the scenic shoreline area between Sooke and Port Renfrew along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This shoreline was formed by the unique geology of southern Vancouver Island, and the geomorphology created by glacial rebound, wave erosion, and weathering of the rocks. Vancouver Island is part of the Insular Belt and mostly made up of volcanic and sedimentary rock which was formed offshore on the Kula oceanic plate which completely subducted below the North American Plate around 55 million years ago during the Paleogene Period. A volcanic arc on the surface of the Kula Plate was accreted and fused onto the western edge of the North American Plate, and this accretionary wedge became Vancouver Island. The principal rock formations of the area are shale, conglomerate, and sandstone. San Juan Point and most of Botany Bay have rock platforms composed of tilted schist, a metamorphosed mudstone, and the eastern portion of the park has extensive sandstone platforms. The Botany Bay area is dominated by rocky headlands, wave eroded platforms with extensive tidepools, and generally lacks beaches due to the coastline still rebounding from the massive ice cover of the Last Glacial Period. Evidence of this includes the sheer sandstone cliffs that rise about 49 feet (15 m) above the high tidemark. These cliffs are pitted and carved by the relentless action of the waves, rain, and wind.
Little is known about the early human history of the area, but there is evidence that it was used by Native people. There are at least three archaeological sites located in or near the park. It appears that these sites were used by Pacheedaht First Nation people in historical times as shark-fishing camps. The oil was extracted from the shark liver and used in trade with the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 19th century. In 1898, a botany professor named Josephine Tilden from the University of Minnesota arrived in Victoria and heard of a distant beach with fabulous tidal pools from local ship captains and fishermen. She traveled to the tiny settlement of Port Renfrew where a miner named Tom Baird agreed to row several kilometers along the treacherous coastline to land at the botanical paradise. On arrival, she scrambled ashore, and with little food and no shelter, she remained for 4 days on the rocky, exposed beach in the pouring rain, avidly collecting marine algae from the intertidal zone and the deep tidal pools on the sandstone platforms. Tilden decided to convince the university in the American midwest to establish a marine research station for students, and remarkably the university agreed to provide instructors and equipment. However, funds would need to come from Tilden and her staunch supporter Professor Conway MacMillan who was the head of the department of botany, and from student fees. Tom Baird gave Tilden 4 acres (1.6 ha) of his newly acquired crown land grant for the research station and construction of primitive buildings began early in 1901 with the assistance of Baird and other locals. The station consisted of a large log building with a kitchen and living area downstairs and dormitories overhead, a small laboratory near the shore, and later a two-story botanical laboratory. The buildings provided accommodation for as many as 80 researchers and students. Each summer from 1901 to 1907, groups of students and instructors ventured here from Minnesota, Ohio, Nebraska, and other midwestern states. In total, some 200 people attended the Minnesota Seaside Station, and significantly, female students often made up half of each year’s participants. In 1906, the station was closed because the University of Minnesota would not support a research program outside the United States. During World War II, the Canadian military used the site for a coastal defense gun battery and remnants of an access road still exist. In 1948, Tilden sold the Botanical Beach property and the buildings were rapidly reclaimed by the forest.
One of the legacies from the marine station is the international reputation of the area for botanical research. Botanical Beach offers one of the best opportunities to view intertidal plants and animals in the Pacific Northwest and is used for teaching and research by programs at the University of British Columbia, University of Washington, Simon Fraser University, and the University of Victoria. For example, the University of Washington Friday Harbor Labs has annual field trips to monitor changes in intertidal marine algae and animals. The marine environment of the park has an unusual abundance and diversity of seaweeds with more than 231 marine species idenitified from the site. An extensive algal forest is found in Botany Bay and much of it is exposed at low tide. A new kelp was discovered here in 1905, now known as Laminaria ephemera. Botanical Beach is the first southern location on Vancouver Island where Sea Palm, a brown alga named Postelsia palmaeformis, can be observed. This alga is characteristic of very exposed sand-free west coast rocky habitats. The tidepools offer habitats for a high diversity of marine fauna. Marine life can be viewed here that is seldom observed in the intertidal zone. Scientists have identified over 100 marine invertebrates at Botanical Beach including many gastropods such as limpets, periwinkles and snails. Four species of sea stars are found here, along with several species of anemone, coral, chiton, mussel, barnacle, crab, sea urchin, and sea cucumber. The California mussel Mytilus californicanus, purple sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, and the giant green anemone Anthopleura xanthogrammica are particularly abundant. Read more here and here. Explore more of Botany Bay here: