If you decide to brave the roads to San Josef Bay near Vancouver Island’s most northern point, then be sure to stop at the Goodspeed Fossil Beds. The site is pretty nondescript, but the local rotary club has placed a sign to let you know where to go. Don't worry went you start climbing up a short and partly overgrown, bumpy gravel road. Once you arrive, there are fossils everywhere!
Fossil Hunting in BC
Before I go further, please remember that fossils in BC are protected under the Land Act, which stipulates that “Provincial approval is required to collect fossils from Crown land. Fossils found on land administered by the Park Act, Ecological Reserve Act or Protected Areas of British Columbia Act, are under the authority of the Ministry of Environment.” However, “Surface collection, of small amounts of fossils common at the site is allowed, using hand tools. 'Common' refers to types of fossils not considered scientifically significant, and that occur in abundance such that collecting a few specimens would not deplete the resource at the site. “ – BC Government Website. This, I believe pertains to the Goodspeed Fossil Beds which have abundant clam and ammonite fossils that are well documented scientifically.
Geology of the Goodspeed Fossil Beds
The Goodspeed Fossil Beds are somewhere between 178 and 204 million years old (1,2,3). The beds were deposited from turbidites and in deep water. What is a turbidite? It is basically a mixture of sediment (sand and mud) and water. When the sediment and water is mixed together it is heavier than the surrounding water and so the mixture flows downhill. This video shows some nice examples of turbidites generated in a flume, which is basically an aquarium used for geological research.
At the time that the Goodspeed Fossil Beds were deposited, Vancouver Island was probably a series of volcanic islands or underwater mountains (see blog post of Myra Falls) somewhere near the equator (2). These islands were ringed by coral reefs. The turbidite flows formed in front of the reefs and picked up clams and ammonites living on the seafloor and in the overlying water column. The sediment-water-animal mixture flowed downhill and the sediment and animals in the mixture were deposited on the seafloor in the deep ocean. The animals carried in the flow were buried quickly leading to their excellent preservation. Much later, and following the collision of Vancouver Island and North America, these deep-water sedimentary deposits (probably sedimentary rocks by that point) were pushed up and exposed creating the Goodspeed Fossil Beds.
Fossil Hunting at the Goodspeed Fossil Beds
The fossils you find at the Goodspeed Fossil Beds include thin-shelled clams and ammonites. The two most common thin-shelled clams are Halobia alaskana and Monotis subcircularis. Scientists think these clams attached themselves to the seafloor or to floating seaweed and filtered plankton from the ocean (3). You can also find several types of ammonites which looked a bit like a snail-squid hybrid. The living Nautilus is probably the best example of what ammonites looked like. Check out this video to learn more on Nautilus and it's connection to ammonites. The ammonites you may find include Gnomohalorites sp., Choristeras suttonese, Sympocyclus gunningi and Stantonites sp. (3). If these latin names mean nothing to you, don't worry, they are really only used to help classify, catalog, and label fossils. For a more complete list of fossils, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Ludvigsen and Beard’s 1997 book (3).
Fossil hunting at the Goodspeed Fossil Beds is pretty rewarding. If you collect specimens, however, please be sure to record who collected them, the date they were collected, and the precise location. That way if your fossils prove to be scientifically valuable, then scientists can study them to help understand what the world looked like hundreds of millions of years ago, and that is pretty cool!
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1) Nixon, G. T., Hammack, J. L., Koyanagi, V. M., Payie, G. J., Panteleyev, A., Massey, N. W. D., Hamilton, J. V., and Haggart, J. W., 1994, Preliminary geology of the Quatsino - Port McNeil map areas, northern Vancouver Island (92L/12, 11): British Columbia Geological Survey.
2) Nixon, G. T., Hammack, J. L., Koyanagi, V. M., Snyder, L. D., Payie, G. J., Panteleyev, A., Massey, N. W. D., Hamilton, J. V., Orr, A. J., Friedman, R. M., Archibald, D. A., Haggart, J. W., Orchard, M. J., Tozer, E. T., Tipper, H. W., Poulton, T. P., Palfy, J., and Cordey, F., 2011, Geology, Geochronolgy, Lithogeochemistry and Metamorphism of the Holberg-Winter Harbour Area, northern Vancouver Island (parts of 92L/5,12,13; 102I/8,9,16): BCGS.
3) Ludvigsen, R., and Beard, G., 1997, West Coast Fossils: A Guide to the Ancient Life of Vancouver Island, 2nd Edition, Madeira Park, BC, Harbour Publishing, 216 p.