– Sound Investment: Measuring the Return on Howe Sound’s Ecosystem Assets (Michelle Molnar, 2015, David Suzuki Foundation)
The story of Howe Sound’s recovery from nearly a century of heavy industrial use is one of wins and losses. For much of the 20th Century, effluent and toxic chemicals from pulp and paper mills and heavy metals from the Britannia Mine site poured into the Sound, contaminating sea life, soaking up oxygen and smothering the sea floor. The result was near devastation of many aquatic ecosystems, leading to widespread fisheries closures and health warnings — some of which are still in place today.
But environmental regulations and remediation efforts introduced beginning in the late 1980s have had a remarkable effect. Today, the Sound is once again home to many viable fisheries, and has seen a return of cetaceans and other large species to the area, suggesting a proliferation of food sources farther down the food chain. Concentrations of pollutants such as dioxins and furans in fish tissue and sediment have declined dramatically, while the closure of the Britannia Mine and the introduction of remediation efforts at its site in 2001 have also had a substantial positive impact.
Howe Sound will not soon return to its pre-industrial state, however. Nearly two decades after the closure of the mine, heavy metals are still leaching into the water from unknown sources, while some Dungeness crab in the Sound still show dangerously high levels of pollutants previously used in pulp and paper production. At the same time, derelict vessels abandoned or wrecked in the Sound increase the risk of contamination and fuel spills. Howe Sound’s recent history shows us that, while much can be done to improve the health of ecosystems affects by contamination, human-caused damage is very difficult to undo.
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.
Britannia Mine Contamination
After being deemed one of the most polluted areas of Howe Sound, aquatic life has started to return to the waters around the old Britannia Mine site. But despite ongoing remediation efforts at the site, metals continue to leach from unknown sources.
Pulp Mill Effluent
Regulations introduced to pulp mills along Howe Sound have eliminated new input of marine pollutants associated with the industry. Yet lingering concentrations in marine sediment and Dungeness crab underscore the persistent impact of these toxins, so concerns remain.
Abandoned, wrecked and derelict vessels continue to populate Howe Sound calling attention to the need for a coordinated effort to track owners and enforce marine laws. While there is some effort and movement on the problem, including commitments in the new federal Ocean Protection Plan, the costs and removal strategies associated with existing problem vessels remain largely unaddressed.