Coastal Development and Livelihoods

As more people flock to B.C. from across Canada and around the world, Howe Sound is an increasingly sought-after destination. Upgrades to the Sea-to-Sky highway made for the 2010 Olympics have vastly improved access to the region for tourists and locals alike, who are drawn to Howe Sound’s spectacular natural settings and recreation opportunities. Meanwhile high housing prices in the Lower Mainland have pushed more residents to settle in the relatively affordable communities in the region.

Population growth in Squamish is currently outpacing both the provincial and Metro Vancouver averages and tourism across the Sound is booming. More than two million people visited B.C. parks in Howe Sound in 2014-2015, a near 50 percent increase since 2010, and tourist attractions, such as Squamish’s Sea to Sky Gondola, drew hundreds of thousands more. Meanwhile, BC Ferries vessels packed with residents and visitors account for nearly three-quarters of large vessel marine traffic.

This influx of activity poses tremendous economic opportunity for the area, which is seeing tourism eclipse the resource industry as a primary economic driver — but it is also bringing change that requires careful management to reduce ecological impact. Thousands of units of new housing, an all-season ski resort, and a new highway connection to the Sunshine Coast are just some of the projects currently under consideration for the region. Meanwhile the possible conversion of a former pulp-and-paper plant into a production facility for liquefied natural gas could increase shipping activity in the waters of Howe Sound.

As the region grows, finding a balance between emerging economic drivers, social well-being, and ecological preservation is more important than ever.

“Microorganisms in sediments and mudflats of estuaries, bays and nearshore areas break down human and other animal wastes. They can also detoxify petroleum products. … The total value of waste-processing services in the study area ranges from approximately $4 million to $12 million per year.”

– Sound Investment: Measuring the Return on Howe Sound’s Ecosystem Assets (Michelle Molnar, 2015, David Suzuki Foundation)

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.

Snapshot Assessment

Coastal Development and Livelihoods

Coastal Development

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Population growth in Squamish is outpacing the provincial average, and increasing development pressure on coastal areas highlights the need for a coordinated approach to track and manage growth. Potential cumulative impacts to the marine environment are largely unstudied.

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Large Vessel Traffic

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BC Ferries accounts for nearly 75 percent of large vessel marine traffic on Howe Sound. Several proposed and approved industrial activities, such as an LNG plant, could lead to a marked increase in shipping traffic in the Sound in the coming years. With an increase in potential conflict with boats, recreation, and marine life, it will be important to understand the risks and consequences.

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Tourism and Recreation

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An influx of tourist activity in Howe Sound presents economic benefits as well as an opportunity for environmental stewardship and education. There is a need to balance environmental protection and community well-being with this booming economic driver.

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