Banner Photo: Plankton under a microscope. Pennate (left) and centric (right) diatoms. (Credit: Bridget John)

2020 Rating

2020 Rationale

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.

2017 Rating

2017 Rationale

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 Átl’ḵa7tsem/Txwnéwu7ts/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.

The following is an excerpt from the full updated article. Download the full 2020 article for all content and references.

Plankton: the foundation of the food web

Authors: Aroha Miller, Manager, Ocean Watch, Ocean Wise Research Institute

With contributions from: Bridget John, Research Assistant, Atl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound Marine Reference Guide

Reviewers: Fiona Beaty, Project Director, Atl’ḵa7tsem/ Howe Sound Marine Reference Guide

Jeff Marliave, Senior Research Scientist, Howe Sound Conservation and Research Team, Ocean Wise Research Institute

Excerpt from 2020 article

Plankton forms the basis of the Átl’ḵa7tsem/Txwnéwu7ts/Howe Sound food chain and is therefore vital for the ecosystem. However, plankton has not been studied in detail in Alt’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound since the early 1970s. Therefore, due to the lack of data, the Ocean Watch Howe Sound Edition (OWHS) 2017 Plankton article made two key recommendations. First, that survey work be implemented using the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) sampling sites from the 1970s, so that comparisons over time can be made. Specifically, surveys were suggested to measure changes in water quality as well as plankton species and productivity. Second, it was recommended to make plankton baseline records and monitoring a requirement for coastal development projects.

Read the full article to see what else is happening.

Background: Phylum Euglenophyta, Phacus species. (Credit: Bridget John)

What’s been done since 2017?

The table below reports on progress made on recommended actions from the previous 2017 article, where identified. Many of these require ongoing action.

2017 Action Action Taken
Government Action and Policy
Conduct a survey, preferably utilizing the same DFO stations in the 1970s, so valid comparisons of decadal changes can be made. This survey should include standard physical, chemical (nutrients, oxygen) and biological (dominant species, phytoplankton and zooplankton biomass, and primary productivity) parameters. What species are being lost or gained (i.e., changes in biodiversity) due to climate change, and what are the changes in plankton/ecosystem productivity? This action is being addressed via the planning and execution of this pilot plankton survey in Átl’ḵa7tsem/Txwnéwu7ts/Howe Sound, using the same DFO stations and sampling methods as used in the 1970s study. If the pilot study is feasible, a full-scale study will be carried out in 2020 that will inform a baseline inventory of plankton species in the Sound, with a view to creating the basis for regular plankton monitoring. Water quality studies are being carried out at the east Ḵw’émḵw’em/ Defence Island and Nínich Ḵw’émḵw’em glass sponge reef bioherm (site 6, Figure 1, in text).
Information on zooplankton, an important food source for many small fish, is lacking and should be conducted similar to an on-going study on zooplankton seasonal succession in another fjord, Rivers Inlet, up the B.C. coast. The above plankton study will examine dominant zooplankton species to elucidate if there has been a change since the 1970s.
Continue the practice of testing water quality in front of the Port Mellon pulp mill (HSPP) to determine if the present mill is meeting provincial and federal marine foreshore water standards. HSPP is required to monitor the waste water it releases into the Sound. HSPP has implemented an Environmental Effects Monitoring program, in accordance with the evolving Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulation.4 This monitoring occurs on a three-year cycle. The most recent reporting occurred in 2018 (see Pulp Mill Effluent, OWHS 2020 for more details).
If a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal at the old Woodfibre site is approved, then an extensive survey will be needed to determine the “before” or baseline inventory and continued monitoring if it begins operations. Plankton samples will be collected from two depths at seven sites within Átl’ḵa7tsem/Txwnéwu7ts/Howe Sound. Sampling site 8 is very near to the Woodfibre site (see Figure 1, map of sampling sites, in text).

What can you do?

A detailed overview of recommended actions relating to climate change is included in The path to zero carbon municipalities. In some cases, no progress was identified on previous recommended actions; these remain listed below. Additional actions marked as NEW also follow.

action-individual Individual and Organization Actions:

    • Keep an eye out for unusual blooms and continue to ask what they are and why are they occurring in the Sound.
    • True colour satellite imagery, useful for monitoring coccolithophore blooms and turbidity, can be viewed in near real time on NASA’s Worldview (here). The satellite images will be the “webcam” for active citizen science groups that are interested in on-going plankton events in the Sound.

action-governmentGovernment Action and Policy:

    • Make baseline inventory and regular monitoring of plankton (the key food resource for all higher trophic levels) a requirement for coastal development projects, so that any changes in production, diversity, or timing can be assessed.
    • Collect important historical data on the Sound (before scientists and other groups retire) and archive the data in a government data centre.
    •  NEW Fund baseline monitoring of plankton (the key food resource for all higher trophic levels) so that any changes in production, diversity, or timing can be assessed.
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