Banner Photo Credit: Jenn Burt

Species and Habitats

Life under the ocean’s surface is an intricate web connecting all organisms, from the microscopic species at the bottom of the food chain to some of the world’s largest animals at the top. After being hunted to near extinction, humpback whales are returning to the Salish Sea in greater numbers than we’ve seen for decades, signaling a significant achievement for conservation efforts. Their return may signal an overall improvement in the health of the aquatic environment, but their presence is also a complicating factor. In addition, to competing with other animals for food sources, the humpbacks are also competing with humans for space in what has become a busy waterway. Boat strikes and entanglements in fishing gear are just some of the potential threats they face.

Recoveries of other species have been less robust. Several decades after fisheries of rockfish were restricted or closed, populations have yet to meaningfully rebound, while coastal waterbird populations in the Salish Sea demonstrate an overall declining trend. Meanwhile, a mysterious wasting disease continues to ravage populations of sea stars all along the North American coast, although anecdotal evidence of recovery in some areas has surfaced.

With B.C.’s coastal ecosystems under increasing pressure from human activity and climate change, scientists and citizen scientists are keeping a close eye on even the most microscopic species, like phytoplankton, to help build the body of knowledge about the underwater world, and how best to protect it.

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Humpback whales

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.

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Marine Birds

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.

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