Banner Photo: Shoreline on Ḵw’émḵw’em/Defence Island.(Credit: Tracey Saxby)


After years of industrial pollution and heavy usage of the Átl’ḵa7tsem/Txwnéwu7ts/Howe Sound waterways, large efforts have been made by government, industry and communities to clean up its waters. Today, the positive impacts of these actions are finally being seen, with some metals and dioxin and furan concentrations decreasing to near or within safe levels, and the passage in 2019 of Bill C-64 that assists in addressing wrecked, abandoned or hazardous vessels. Unfortunately, new threats are emerging. The presence of plastics in our oceans is pervasive and was prominently seen after the 2018/2019 winter storms damaged infrastructure throughout the Sound. There is concern about the impact of microplastics (i.e., <5 mm) entering the food web, and further research is needed. Vessel traffic continues to grow and a number of large developments are proposed or underway along the shorelines, all of which can impact water quality in the Sound. An important piece of this puzzle – contaminant monitoring – is ongoing at three sites in the Sound via PollutionTracker. Overshadowing everything are the myriad effects from climate change, most of which still require further research. Rising ocean temperatures are likely to stress marine organisms, potentially leaving them more vulnerable to the toxic effects of contaminants. Additionally, some of these contaminants have settled in sediments that could be stirred up by the predicted increasing frequency and intensity of storms, potentially releasing them back into the waters of the Sound. Further actions are needed to continue the improving trends being observed. Some metals continue to exceed provincial water quality guidelines. Dioxins and furans continue to be detected in water, sediment and crab samples, albeit at lower concentrations than seen in previous years, and abandoned and wrecked vessels continue to be a problem. 

Ocean Watch Rating Legend

Ratings are meant to provide the reader with a visual snapshot summary about the subject.  Subject ratings were assigned 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.

Clean Water Ratings

Article & 2020 Rating Rationale

2017 Rating

2020 Rating

Britannia Mine 

Some improvements have been seen following wastewater treatment; however,exceedances of water quality guidelines are still occurring.

Pulp Mill: Marine Effluent

Dioxin and furan contamination in sediment and benthic life is decreasing followingregulations but is still detected.

Wrecked, abandoned, and problem vessels

The passage of Bill C-64 has increased resources available for removal of vessels; however, this is a complex issue and further refining of legislation is necessary.

PollutionTracker NEW

Dioxin and furan concentrations are high, especially in mussels, when compared with other areas along the B.C. Coast. Metals continue to be detected in sediments, sometimes above sediment quality guidelines.

Plastics NEW

Plastics are ubiquitous in our oceans. However, within the Sound data for plastics and microplastics is lacking.

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