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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Not rated due to the nature of the article, or there are not enough data to produce an assessment.

Species and Habitats (Sealife)

Eagles

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Eagle counts in Squamish and Lower Howe Sound show numbers have rebounded since a low point in the 1970s and 1980s, but eagle populations continue to fluctuate based on available food sources and recent counts are quite low. The local trend is concerning, but elsewhere eagles are abundant and counting efforts are robust.

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Cetaceans

icon-warningicon-goodDolphins, whales and porpoises have made a triumphant return to Howe Sound after a near 100-year absence, suggesting remediation efforts have been successful in combating the polluting effects of industrial activity. Citizen reporting continues to be a crucial tool in monitoring cetacean populations in the Sound. Still, compared to our impressions of historical abundance, cetacean numbers are low.

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Eelgrass

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A crucial part of our underwater ecosystems, eelgrass beds face threats from human activity such as docks, boat moorings, log booms and coastal erosion. Efforts need to be stepped up to map, track, and re-colonize these underwater meadows.

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Plankton

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Plankton are the tiniest and most important organisms in the Sound since they form the basis of the food chain and are crucial for all life in Howe Sound. Unfortunately, their levels have not been surveyed since the 1970s. Although the recovery of whales in the Sound suggests that plankton populations have improved, regular monitoring is needed to track the abundance and productivity of these organisms.

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Glass Sponges

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Once thought extinct, the discovery of glass sponge reefs in Howe Sound has spurred a flurry of interest in these ancient organisms. Efforts from citizen scientists, divers and researchers have been instrumental in expanding protected marine areas to safeguard this critical fish habitat. Threats remain and research and advocacy efforts are high.

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Marine Birds

icon-nricon-warningOne of the most common sights along Howe Sound, several species of marine birds are far less common along coastal areas than they once were. Bird count efforts are significant but do not cover the whole Sound.

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Salmon

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While one species of salmon thrived in recent years, others remain in reduced abundance as we see variations in ocean conditions, changing patterns in stream flows, rising water temperatures and other effects of human activity and climate change. Populations are low, trends are uncertain, we have few data, but some positive actions are being taken.

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Rockfish

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Rockfish populations in Howe Sound do not appear to have rebounded since fishing restrictions and conservation areas were introduced. More research and longer-term data are needed to determine whether protected areas have been correctly placed and will have a lasting impact.

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Lingcod

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Despite the closure of commercial fisheries in the 1990s, lingcod stocks have failed to rebound significantly in Howe Sound. Researchers and citizen scientists continue to monitor populations carefully through annual egg-mass surveys, but threats remain.

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Sea Stars

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A mysterious condition leading to the death of large numbers of sea stars of various species throughout the Pacific Northwest continues to confound the scientific community and could potentially have huge impacts on the marine food chain in Howe Sound. The sunflower star, a keystone species, shows no robust signs of recovery.

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Annapolis

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In April 2015, a decommissioned naval ship sunk off of Gambier Island became B.C.’s newest artificial reef. More than a year later, marine species are populating the Annapolis, bringing new life to an area of Howe Sound once devastated by the logging industry.

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Squamish Estuary

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Two decades of revitalization efforts have returned large areas of the Squamish Estuary to a vital wildlife habitat and reversed the effects of human activity and industry. Yet the impact of industry and human intervention will be felt for a long time in this valuable aquatic area.

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Forage Fish

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Two decades of revitalization efforts have returned large areas of the Squamish Estuary to a vital wildlife habitat and reversed the effects of human activity and industry. Yet the impact of industry and human intervention will be felt for a long time in this valuable aquatic area.

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OHI Score for Biodiversity

68Howe Sound scores 68 out of 100 for biodiversity; a score that combines an 80 for species and a 56 for habitats. A healthy ocean provides a diversity of healthy marine species, habitats, and landscapes.

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Clean Water

Britannia Mine Contamination

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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.

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Pulp Mill Effluent

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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.

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Problem Vessels

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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.

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Sense of Place and Wellbeing

Cultural Continuity

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Efforts to bolster the Squamish Nation’s language and traditions have ignited a period of cultural renewal and continuity for Howe Sound’s Indigenous people. (Assessment is not appropriate due to the nature of the subject).

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Citizen Science

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Many community members play an important role in monitoring the health of Howe Sound. Citizen science effort is increasing and contributes to a positive sense of place.

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Outdoor Learning

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From outdoor schools to summer camps to ecotourism, opportunities for environmental education abound in Howe Sound’s “outdoor classrooms.” The increase in outdoor learning provides health benefits with no known negative impacts.

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OHI Score for Sense of Place

58

Howe Sound scores 58 out of 100 for Sense of Place; a score that combines a 70 for iconic species and a 45 for lasting special places. A healthy ocean provides a deep sense of identity and belonging through connections with our marine communities.

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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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Stewardship and Governance

Squamish Nation Stewardship

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As courts continue to define the rights and title of Indigenous people, the Squamish Nation has emerged as a powerful voice in determining land-use planning and development in Howe Sound. (Assessment is not appropriate due to the nature of the subject).

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Marine Protected Areas

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A recent expansion of Halkett Bay Marine Park is an example of a growing effort to protect marine areas, yet less than one percent of Howe Sound is protected under provincial legislation. Interest in improving protection status is high and efforts are ongoing.

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Comprehensive Planning

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Despite consensus that Howe Sound needs a comprehensive plan to direct stewardship and growth, efforts to establish such a strategy continue to be hampered by competing jurisdictions, a fragmented regulatory framework and the absence of agreement on the process and leadership. Howe Sound remains vulnerable without coordinated action.

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Oceanography and Climate Change

Ocean Warming

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Following record years for increasing ocean temperatures worldwide, Howe Sound is showing signs its waters are also warming. Warming can mean major change and lack of data specific to Howe Sound causes local uncertainty.

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Shorelines

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Armoring of Howe Sound’s shoreline puts homes, businesses and ecosystems at risk from ocean levels rising due to climate change. Research and education in Howe Sound has started but change is slow. The Green Shores approach can be useful, restoring coastal areas to a more natural state, using vegetation to reinforce coastal areas to preserve aquatic ecosystems, preventing erosion and protecting communities.

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Stream Flows

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The last few years have seen a deviation from historic seasonal stream flow patterns, with increasing rainfall causing high flow in winters and summers affected by record lows. Such seasonal shifts can impact migration patterns of aquatic species such as salmon and pose increased flood risk for human settlements and facilities in Howe Sound. We lack data for most of the streams in Howe Sound and lack information on specific impacts

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Squamish Flood Planning

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Rising sea levels due to climate change are expected to increase the flood threat for the District of Squamish and Howe Sound. The community is responding by developing an updated flood response plan that works with nature to protect communities and economic activity. Risks due to sea level rise are significant and the fundamental problem of human settlement on the flood plain remains despite much planning and mitigation.

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OHI Score for Coastal Protection

73
Howe Sound scores 73 out of 100 for coastal protection. A healthy ocean provides protection of our coasts from storm damage by living natural habitats, such as salt marshes and coastal forests.

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OHI Score for Carbon Storage

70Howe Sound scores 70 out of 100 for carbon storage. A healthy ocean provides long-term storage of carbon in natural marine and coastal habitats, such as salt marshes and coastal forests.

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Seafood

Sport Fishing

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Sport fishing is a huge economic generator for Howe Sound, with interest peaking in the wake of recent record salmon runs. But the growing interest in angling is adding to the pressure on fish stocks and underscoring the need for more effective management, monitoring, training and education of visitors to Howe Sound.

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Prawn and Shrimp Fisheries

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Celebrated as sustainable seafood, Howe Sound’s spot prawns and shrimp fisheries continue to be one of the most economically valuable fisheries in the region. Steps are being taken to further reduce the industry’s impact on the ecosystem by reducing bycatch and limiting fishing in sensitive areas, such as glass sponge reefs.

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