Banner Photo: Echinoderm. (Credit: Donna Gibbs)


Historically, the unique species and habitats of Átl’ḵa7tsem/Txwnéwu7ts/ Howe Sound were subjected to industrial contamination, which saw habitats degraded or destroyed and many species decline or simply disappear.

However, thanks to dedicated hard work from community members through to local, provincial and federal governments to clean up the water and restore habitats, many of these species, including top-level predators such as killer whales, have made an astounding comeback. Unfortunately, some species are still struggling to rebound, such as sea stars, marine birds, lingcod and rockfish. For others, the status remains uncertain, such as some species of salmon and forage fish.

Important conservation actions have been taken to address some of the damage, restore key habitats and protect species. For example, efforts are ongoing to establish new eelgrass beds, continue restoration of the Squamish Estuary, and afford new protections to glass sponge reefs with the creation of marine refugia. However, the impetus cannot stop as new threats, such as climate change and an increasing human population, put pressure on the Sound’s ecosystems. To effectively protect key species and habitat, actions to address climate change, with consistent, comprehensive monitoring, are necessary. 

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


No data is presented in this update; however, a pilot plankton study using the same sites as Stockner et al. (1977) was undertaken in summer/fall of 2019, as per recommendations from the 2017 report.

Forage Fish

There is a lack of monitoring and data on forage fish in Átl’ḵa7tsem/Txwnéwu7ts/ Howe Sound. Consequently, despite information from citizen scientists, gaps exist; thus, an analysis of trends and population status is not possible.

Sea Stars

For some sea star species, numbers remain low and wasting disease is still observed. However, other species appear relatively common, yet are still susceptible to wasting disease. The risk to these species is likely to increase because of climate change impacts.


There is a lack of comprehensive data or stock assessments for wild salmon species in Átl’ḵa7tsem/Txwnéwu7ts/Howe Sound. Status and trends are inconclusive for hatchery species.

Critical Fish Stocks

(Previously Rockfish, Lingcod)

No increasing trends have been observed; however, there are some positive signs, such as sightings of schools of juvenile yellowtail rockfish. Improvements are minor or slow; enforcement of rules and laws needs improvement.

Marine Birds

Globally, considerable declines have been observed in marine bird populations due to impacts from climate change and habitat destruction. In the Sound, an Important Bird Area (IBA) was extended; however, the IBA offers no legal protection.


There is considerable annual variation in bald eagle counts, with counts in the last three years being similar to the last ten years, but lower compared to earlier periods.

Pinnipeds NEW

Better management has led to increased numbers since the 1970s, and monitoring continues. However, pressure from climate change will likely impact recovering numbers, and population estimates would benefit from more frequent monitoring.


An increase in large whale numbers and a decrease in small cetacean numbers has been reported. Much forward movement on actions has been taken.


Efforts to restore and transplant eelgrass are ongoing; however, more work is needed as not all transplants are successful.

Glass Sponges

Considerable advances in knowledge have been made; however, glass sponges remain vulnerable to mechanical damage and climate change.


Increases in the number of marine animals but decreases in marine plants and moss animals (bryozoa) have been noted. Ongoing monitoring is needed.

Squamish Estuary

Many positive actions are being taken to repair this critically important habitat; however, monitoring of these efforts is needed to measure their impacts.

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