The Vancouver Aquarium has released a report on the Howe Sound, the first in a series entitled ‘Ocean Watch’ conducted by the Coastal Ocean Research Institute (CORI). The findings were unveiled Thursday night in front of Chief Bill Williams of the Squamish Nation, Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, MLA Jordan Sturdy, Squamish Mayor Patricia Heintzman and other guests.

The report is based on a year of research focusing on marine ecosystem indicators. The themes ‘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.’ Executive Director of the Coastal Ocean Research Institute Andrew Day says Howe Sound is “a fantastic area to look at, as it encapsulates a lot of the challenges we’re facing in the relationship between people and nature”.

Squamish Mayor Patricia Heintzman says the report talks about the ecosystem that was in Howe Sound prior to industrialization, impacts of industrialization and then how to balance all the needs and varying interests in the area; “how do you balance out those things and learn from the mistakes that were made for a hundred years in the Sound”.

Mayor Heintzman says there were a lot of contributors from Squamish that provided input for the report. District of Squamish staff were also involved, and the Mayor herself attended workshops that were “laying the foundation of the report”. Contributors also included those from Whistler and Bowen Island. CORI Executive Director Andrew Day says the report is really one of the first reports that “brings together knowledge from First Nations, from government, from academics, from NGOs, citizen scientists, industry, and puts it all in once place that’s easy to access”.

There were numerous findings in the substantial report – including, that in 2015 almost 13,000 large vessels entered Howe Sound, of which ferries accounted for 72% of the traffic. Concern was also raised at two development projects that would bring traffic to the waters, the Woodfibre LNG project and the Burnco Aggregate project. In addition, the report highlighted that the volume of timber arriving by log boom to the Mamquam Blind Channel for processing is projected to increase.

The report’s authors say remediation efforts in the Sound have had some success in restoring the health of coastal habitat. However the status of some species is less certain and more needs to be done to track the health of the area’s wild inhabitants. Salmon, rockfish, lingcod and sea stars were some of the species classified as ‘critical’, while inhabitants like glass sponges were given a ‘caution’ rating.

A decommissioned navy ship, sunk off the coast of Gambier Island to create an artificial reef in early 2015 received praise from the authors; ‘marine species are populating the Annapolis, bringing new life to an area of Howe Sound once devastated by the logging industry’.

Marine activities in Howe Sound are currently managed by more than ten different government bodies according to the report. It says coordinated, comprehensive information and planning does not exist. The report notes that ‘less than one percent of Howe Sound is protected under provincial legislation’ and key findings include that nearly half of the species and habitats researched are rated critical according to the CORI criteria, while the other half are lacking data, show low abundance, require restoration, and remain unprotected.

You can view the full report by clicking here.

Filed under: Coastal Ocean Research Institute, Howe Sound, Ocean, Report, Sea to Sky, Squamish, Study, Vancouver Aquarium, Water