Banner Photo Credit: Tracey Saxby
Ocean Watch Rating Legend
Ratings are meant to provide the reader with a visual snapshot summary about the subject. Subject ratings were assigned by the Coastal Ocean Research Institute based on application of the criteria to the information in each article.
1) The status is healthy according to available data, 2) the trend is positive if known, 3) some data are available, and/or 4) actions to address or mitigate are well underway and are known to be effective. Actions should be taken to maintain positive status and/or trend.
Status, trend, data, and/or actions provide contradictory or inconclusive information. Actions are needed to move into positive status and trend and avoid negative status and trend.
1) Impacts or issues are high risk or have resulted in a low or vulnerable status, 2) improvements are uncertain, minor, or slow, and/or 3) actions to address or mitigate are non-existent, vague, or have low effectiveness. Actions are needed to move into positive status and trend.
Not rated due to the nature of the article, or there are not enough data to produce an assessment.
Species and Habitats (Sealife)
One of the smallest organisms in the sea, phytoplankton have a huge impact on the wellbeing of aquatic ecosystems as an integral part of the food chain. Monitoring spring ‘blooms’ of this essential species yields important information about the overall dynamics of the entire marine environment. Monitoring is insufficient along the B.C. coast, except in the Strait of Georgia.
Sea Star Wasting
Despite anecdotal reports of recovery in some areas, a mysterious condition continues to ravage sea star species along North America’s west coast.
Twenty-five years after several rockfish species were severely depleted, stock assessment models predict 90 years or more before meaningful recovery occurs for long-lived species such as quillback rockfish.
After a decline in lingcod population triggered restrictions on commercial and recreational fisheries, indices show no clear trends in populations. Catches are quite restricted in the Strait of Georgia and decreasing elsewhere, even though these outside stocks are assessed as healthy.
After being hunted to near extinction in the Salish Sea, humpback whale populations have rebounded significantly. While this is a great win for conservation efforts, the return of humpbacks comes with risks, such as boat strikes and entanglements in what is now a busy urban waterway.
Once considered out of sight, out of mind, declining populations of marine birds on B.C.’s coast have come to the public’s attention due to multiple die-off events. Citizen science audits are critical in monitoring the health of marine bird populations and assessing potential threats.
PCBs in Sediments and Mussels
Starting in 2015, the Coastal Ocean Research Institute launched PollutionTracker, a coastwide initiative aimed at monitoring pollution levels at 55 sites along the B.C. coast. As human activity continues to impact the marine environment, the initiative is an important tool in monitoring how and where legacy pollutants and contemporary contaminants continue to impact coastal ecosystems.
From microbeads to fibres from fleece and other textiles, microplastics are finding their way into marine ecosystems and entering the food chain.
Radiation after Fukushima
Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, agencies began monitoring waters of coastal B.C. for radiation contamination. While radiation associated with the disaster has been detected, levels determined to date are far below those considered harmful to human or marine health.
Persistent Organic Pollutants in Seals
Despite the phasing out of many persistent organic pollutants (POPs) from industrial use in Canada, marine organisms are still testing positive for these harmful chemicals. Careful monitoring of indicator species, such as harbour seals, is an important tool in tracking contaminant hotspots and identifying new substances of concern.
Contaminant Trends in Seabirds
Due to their status at the top of the food chain, seabirds are an important indicator of contaminant levels in marine ecosystems, and the effectiveness of regulations. Long-term studies show substances like mercury, brominated flame-retardants and PFAs are present
at different levels in various seabird populations.
Between 2014 and 2016, more than 10 metric tons of marine debris was removed annually from the west coast of Vancouver Island, much of it tsunami debris from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake off the coast of Japan.
Sense of Place and Wellbeing
Coastal regions account for nearly three-quarters of British Columbia’s growing population, but uneven distribution impacts living standards on the coast. While some coastal communities are growing, others are shrinking, and yet many shoulder high rates of dependent populations — children and the elderly —compared to those of working age.
Participation in volunteer conservation groups is growing throughout B.C., adding valuable human power to citizen science initiatives. In addition to providing crucial data used to monitor the health of coastal ecosystems, citizen science initiatives also create strong community ties that boost overall wellbeing for participants.
Pacific Marine Life Surveys
What started as underwater observations by a local marine naturalist has turned into a growing taxonomy of nearshore species in the Pacific region. To date, information from nearly 5,000 dives in 1,200 locations has created a searchable database that has become a critical tool in monitoring the biodiversity of B.C.’s coast.
FIshing and Sense of Place
The benefits of the fishing industry in coastal communities go far beyond the economy. Fishing, particularly in smaller communities, promotes strong cultural ties, intergenerational exchange and deeper community trust, however recent changes in the industry may be threatening these intangible benefits.
Income Disparity and Wellbeing
Income inequality has been on the rise throughout Canada for decades, a troubling trend linked to poorer health and wellbeing outcomes. B.C. experiences a higher rate of income disparity than the national average, with some coastal communities particularly affected.
Coastal Development and Livelihoods
Population & Major Projects
B.C.’s growing population is increasing development pressure along B.C.’s coastline, particularly in the province’s more densely populated south. This growth is highlighting the need for a cohesive system of tracking the cumulative effects of development – both positive and negative – in coastal communities.
Income & Employment
With few exceptions, incomes in coastal B.C. are lower than the provincial average, while the percentage of low-income residents and unemployment is higher. These indicators suggest large parts of coastal B.C. may be struggling economically, leading to possible negative effects on health and wellbeing.
Underwater noise from shipping, construction, recreation and shoreline development has been doubling in intensity every decade since the 1950s. This is having a marked impact on whales and other marine life as noise from ship traffic, recreation and industry impedes their ability to hunt, communicate, rest and breed.
Seafood industry jobs
Jobs related to seafood production have been on the decline in coastal communities since 1984, but these numbers don’t tell the entire story. Fewer registered fishing vessels and licences are associated with commercial fisheries today, but benefits such as greater diversity in catch, improved sustainability, and increasing opportunities for stable employment have emerged in exchange.
Stewardship and Governance
Marine Protected Areas
Several new marine refuges and marine protected areas in British Columbia have been established or proposed as part of Canada’s goal to conserve 10 percent of its coast by 2020. However, comprehensive oversight is still needed to ensure various marine protection areas function as a cohesive network.
Evolution in Governance
Once strictly top-down, a more collaborative approach to conservation is beginning to emerge in B.C.’s coastal regions. Indigenous peoples are increasingly being recognized for their role in stewardship and the governance of conservation efforts on land and sea.
Oceanography and Climate Change
The world’s oceans are warming, including those in B.C. where surface temperatures in recent years have been consistently warmer than the 30-year baseline. More observation and study is needed to track ocean warming and understand its effect on aquatic ecosystems and human settlements.
Sea Level Rise
New science suggests sea levels may be rising faster, and by a greater amount, than initially predicted, rendering many planning guidelines and adaptation tools in B.C. insufficient. Updates to community plans and policies are needed throughout the coast to protect infrastructure, homes and livelihoods along the coast from the threat of rising waters.
Interest in sustainable seafood has grown exponentially since the Vancouver Aquarium established its Ocean Wise Seafood Program in 2005. To date, the program includes more than 700 partners and has recently launched its own monitoring program for small-scale Canadian fisheries.
Seafood production contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to B.C.’s economy each year, with 2016 reaching over $400 million. But while the sector’s value continues to grow, balance must be achieved between environmental sustainability and the economic wellbeing of those who work in the industry.