About the B.C. coast

Author: Karin Bodtker, MRM, Manager Coastal Ocean Health Initiative, Coastal Ocean Research Institute, an Ocean Wise initiative
Banner Photo Credit: Tracey Saxby

The B.C. coast is wonderfully diverse in many ways. From the exposed west coasts of Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii, to the deep fjords and channels cutting into the British Columbia mainland, to the sparkling Salish Sea, the range of marine habitats is huge. Diversity in habitats brings great diversity in sea life. This coast is home to thousands of species of marine invertebrates, over 400 species of fishes, about 30 different marine mammals, and over 150 species of seabirds, shorebirds, and coastal waterfowl. Marine plants too numerous to count including phytoplankton, kelps, and seagrasses provide habitat and food at the base of a complex and elegant food web.


 “The region is arguably the site of extraordinary natural beauty that has animated what I call a reverential naturalism among many residents.” 

–Paul Bramadat, Principal Investigator, Religion, Spirituality, Secularity, and Society in the Pacific Northwest 




The ecological riches of this coast have supported indigenous peoples since long before recorded time – for at least 13,000 years according to recently carbon dated footprints uncovered on the central coast. Almost 200 different First Nations have their homes and traditional territories in British Columbia — many of them overlapping coastal regions. Over the last few hundred years, settlers from all around the globe have added to the pre-existing cultural diversity.

Photo: Jenn Burt

Ours is a temperate system, with seasonally high productivity driven by diverse ocean currents. Thousands of islands disperse tidal flows, creating strong currents that stir up the nutrients brought down from coastal mountains by rivers and streams. Farther out to sea, on the western edge of the continental shelf, summer currents rising from the depths bring nutrient-rich waters to the surface. In both cases, nutrients feed plankton blooms fueled by the sun’s light energy.

This dance of life continues up through the food web to top predators such as ourselves. Humans not only participate in the food web, but we adapt habitats and influence natural processes, sometimes unintentionally and with unforeseen consequences. Much of the B.C. coast is still relatively pristine, but the impacts of our activities extend far beyond human population centers. Plastic and other trash is finding its way to remote beaches, disease in sea stars remains a mystery, increasing underwater noise from boats and ships makes it harder for whales to find food, and the ecological consequences of ocean warming and sea level rise have no boundaries.

Economic indicators suggest that coastal residents are less well off than elsewhere in B.C., but long-term connections to the marine environment provide a positive sense of place, and increasing volunteer participation in science and conservation boosts overall wellbeing.

Humpback whales are now returning to near historic numbers coast-wide, collaborative governance is garnering successes, sustainable seafood is gaining popularity, and the value of seafood production and exports continues to grow. The signals are mixed — nature is resilient, but we are applying greater pressures. More than ever, we need to foster stewardship, collaborate, and share information to learn from and correct our mistakes.

About This Report

Author: Karin Bodtker, MRM, Manager Coastal Ocean Health Initiative, Coastal Ocean Research Institute, an Ocean Wise Initiative

Based on several years of research focusing on marine ecosystem indicators, CORI identified seven reporting themes for its Ocean Watch series. These themes taken together touch on ecological, socioeconomic, cultural, and governance aspects of ecosystem health and provide a window to the whole picture of what is happening in an area.

This B.C. coast edition of the Ocean Watch report follows on the success of our pilot, the Howe Sound edition. The same seven themes provide the backbone for both reports. The collection of topics for this B.C. coast edition grew from CORI’s research programs, strengths of other Ocean Wise initiatives, Canada’s 2016 census data, and emerging issues related to coastal ecosystem health.



Articles present status and trends of various aspects of the ecosystem, taking advantage of publically available data and information for the most part. There are certainly gaps from a technical standpoint (e.g., thousands of species and habitats do not have individual health reports), but because several topics are presented in each theme, the overall assessment is holistic. Most articles, with a few exceptions, received a technical review by an expert in the appropriate field. We asked reviewers to identify any inaccuracies and unsupported statements and most reviewers provided additional editorial corrections and suggestions. We welcome comments on the accuracy of the information presented.

In order to provide a snapshot assessment of all the status information we compiled, a rating scheme was developed. The ratings say as much about the need for action related to any topic as they say about the health status overall. Ratings were assigned by CORI staff based on the authored papers. Authors were asked to review and comment. Due to limited data and expert capacity, it was not possible to undertake a solely quantitative assessment based on defined benchmarks, targets, and reference points.

How to cite this report or acquire a printed version...


Suggested citation:

Bodtker, K. (Editor). 2018. Ocean Watch: B.C Coast Edition. Coastal Ocean Research Institute, an Ocean Wise Initiative. Vancouver, B.C., Canada. 365 pp. Available online: https://oceanwatch.ca/bccoast

Suggested citation format for individual articles:

Author last name, initial. 2018. Article title. In: Bodtker, K. (Ed.). 2018. Ocean Watch: B.C Coast Edition. Coastal Ocean Research Institute, an Ocean Wise Initiative. Vancouver, B.C., Canada. 326 pp. Available online: https://oceanwatch.ca/bccoast

Method for acquiring a printed copy of the report:

We did not do a large print run, due to environmental impact and cost. We are collecting names of those who would like to order a printed copy, which will run between $100 and $150 each, depending on the size of the order. If you would like to order a print copy, please contact [email protected]. We will advise you of the cost before we place an order.

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