Conserving Marine Ecosystems: Chapter 28 of Biodiversity : Are BC’s Marine Protected Areas Adequate?

Posted June 13, 1994 | Categories : 97,Management,Marine Reserves |

Dr. Michael Hawkes , biologist

Excerpt from: Michael Hawkes, M.W. 1994. Conserving Marine Ecosystems: Are British Columbia’s Marine Protected Areas Adequate? Chap. 28 in: Biodiversity in British Columbia: Our Changing Environment, edited by E. McCullum & L. Harding. Environment Canada: Vancouver.
With permission from:
Michael W. Hawkes
Department of Botany
University of British Columbia
University Blvd.
Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1 Z4

Despite the fact that the marine environment encompasses two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, little attention has been paid to marine conservation issues until relatively recently (Eiswerth, 1990; Hawkes, 1990 and 1992; Earle, 1991; Thorne-Miller and Catena, 199 1; MacInnis 1992; Norse, 1993). Of the 27,000 kilometres of coastline in B.C., there is not one kilometre within which all marine organisms, both commercial and non-commercial, are completely protected from harvesting. Marine protected areas are essential components of any coastal conservation strategy (Lien and Graham, 1985; Bohnsack et al., 1989; Graham, 1990: Beatley, 199 1). Dethier et al. (1989) note that,

“There should be a push for the establishment of large marine preserves. There is a rapidly increasing need for areas protected from all human disturbance that can serve as natural habitats, nurseries for young, sources of spores and larvae of harvested species, and ‘controls’ for research into the impacts that we are having on our nearshore ecosystems.”

However, the establishment of marine protected areas in Canada has been impeded by a multiplicity of jurisdictions, agencies, and legislation. Four levels of government (federal, provincial, municipal, and first nations) are involved in governing the marine environment (Table 28- 1). Different agencies and legislation control the water surface, the water body, the ocean bed, and the tidal strip and adjacent coastal land (Dorcey, 1983). More than thirty agencies and public groups were involved in the B.C. offshore hydrocarbon panel hearings (Langford et al., 1988). As well, federal, provincial, and interjurisdictional interests are not well coordinated on issues involving the coastal zone (Day and Gamble, 1990). The split between federal and provincial ownership and jurisdiction results in several areas of overlapping responsibility. “Nowhere in the coastal zone–upland, foreshore, subtidal land or water is there a clear undisputed basis for one government to be the sole authority” (Dorcey, 1986).

Existing legislation requires that the relevant government own” the affected seabed before a protected area can be established (Westwater Research Centre, 1992a). Regardless of which level of government owns the land/seabed upon which a marine protected area is to be located, the federal government retains exclusive constitutional jurisdiction over: issues transcending international boundaries, navigation (Transport Canada), marine pollution (Environment Canada), migratory birds (Environment Canada) and the conservation and management of all organisms in the water column (Department of Fisheries and Oceans). Depending on the location of aged the protected area, First Nations may also have rights to resources and land.

Table 28-1: Some Major Jurisdictions Responsible for the Coastal Marine Environment.

Federal Government
1. Fisheries, finfish and shellfish (includes all invertebrates), and marine mammals,
Department of Fisheries and Oceans
2. Shipping and navigation, Transport Canada
3. National Marine Parks, Canadian Heritage (Parks Service)
4. Migratory birds, Environment Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service)
5. Marine pollution, Environment Canada (Environmental Protection Service)
6. Energy and mineral resources, Energy, Mines and Resources Canada
Provincial Government
1. Marine plants, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries 197
2. Sea bed, jurisdiction sometimes disputed between the federal and First Nations governments. Ownership of the seabed in territorial waters is disputed between federal and provincial governments, as are exploitation rights to the sea bed on the continental shelf.
3. Environmental protection, Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks
4. Provincial marine parks and provincial marine ecological reserves, Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks.

Municipal Government

First Nations Government


To review the current status of marine protected areas in B.C., let us look at national marine parks, provincial marine parks and are provincial ecological reserves.


National Marine Park Reserves

The National Marine Parks Policy allows for multiple use, unlike terrestrial national parks, which are strict preserves. Multiple use is regulated under a zoning system as follows (Environment Canada, 1986): Zone I – Preservation, Zone II – Natural environment, Zone III – Recreation, Zone IV – General use, and Zone V – Park services. Only Zone I is given complete preserve status. A draft of proposed revisions to Canadian Parks Service policies (dated June 15, 1993) proposes a three zone system and a name change from national marine parks to national marine conservation areas. However, concern remains centred around the fact that,

Fisheries will continue in marine parks, subject to protecting the ecosystem, to maintaining viable fish stocks and to attaining the purpose and objectives of the park …. Jurisdiction over fisheries will, therefore, remain with theMinister of Fisheries and Oceans (Environment Canada, 1986).

To date, B.C. does not have any full-fledged national marine parks: rather, there is one national marine park reserve and a national park reserve with a marine component. Substantial areas
of three of the five marine regions in British Columbia are partially protected (Lien, 1989) by the marine component of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on the outer coast of Vancouver Island (Fig
ure 28- 1), and Gwaii Haanas/South Moresby National Marine Park Reserve (Figure 28-2) on the southem portion of Haida Gwaii (Queen
Charlotte Islands).

Portions of this paper have been adapted from Hawkes (1990) and Hawkes (1992).

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

On the exposed west coast of Vancouver Island, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve has a marine component that is 155.4 square kilometres in extent and is divided into three segments: Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands, and the West Coast Trail. An initial agreement to establish Pacific Rim National Park was signed by the federal and provincial governments on April 21, 1970. This agreement was subsequently amended on March 27, 1973, October 2 1, 1977, and February 19, 1987, (personal communication on Sept 6, 1990 with Claude Mondor, Environment Canada, Parks Service).

Under amendments to the National Park Act made in 1988, it became necessary to proclaim Pacific Rim as a National Park Reserve until resolution of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council native land claim, which includes all the land and marine environment within Pacific Rim. To date (January, 1993), however, Pacific Rim still has not been proclaimed in Parliament (personal communication on January 14, 1993 with Bill Henwood, Environment Canada, Parks Service). Once it is proclaimed, the National Park Act will apply to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve as if it were a national park. The terrestrial portion of the Park is being managed under the National Park Policy whereas the marine component is being managed under the National Marine Parks Policy (Environment Canada, 1991).

Current status of the fisheries in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is as follows. The only commercial fin fisheries that are open are salmon and herring roe-on-kelp. All commercial invertebrate fisheries are closed except for Dungeness crab (Cancer magister) and squid (Loligo opalescens). The recreational fin fishery and invertebrate fishery are both open, but an application was made by Parks

Figure 28-1. Location of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Source: Environment Canada 1991, p.3.
Figure 28-2. Proposed Boundaries for Gwaii Haanas/South Moresby National Marine Park Reserve. Source: Claude Mondor, Parks Canada
Canada (September, 1991) to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans requesting closure of all recreational invertebrate fisheries and the recreational rockfish fishery. As of January 1993, no closures have been made (personal communication on January 14, 1993 with Bill Henwood, Environment Canada, Parks Service).

Gwaii-Haanas/South MoresbyNational Marine Park Reserve

A Federal – Provincial Agreement (Canada and British Columbia 1988) established the Haanas/South Moresby National Park Reserve and National Marine Park Reserve on July 12, 1988. The Canada/Haida agreement for joint management of the park was signed in 1992. The proposed marine park boundaries extend between six and ten kilometres from the coast and cover an area of 3,180 square kilometres, thereby encompassing a diversity of west coast marine environments. These boundaries are tentative, pending completion of offshore energy and mineral resource assessments (Lien, 1989). Petroleum and mineral resource assessments were finished in 1992, and final marine park boundaries were to be set by December 31, 1992 (personal communication on Sept 6, 1991 with Claude Mondor, Environment Canada, Parks Service). However, discussions between Parks Canada, the Haida Nation, and the Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Resources are still ongoing and it is expected that final park boundaries will be established sometime in 1993 (personal communication on January 14, 1993, with Bill Henwood, Environment Canada, Parks Service).

British Columbian Provincial Parks With Marine Components

Provincial marine parks, ecological reserves, and recreation areas that have marine components are subject to all of the jurisdictional complexities mentioned previously. Of key importance is the fact that the province lacks complete legislative and jurisdictional authority over the marine organisms and the marine environment in its parks. Pursuant to The Constitution Act (Canada, 1982), as amended, jurisdiction over harvesting of organisms (except for marine plants) in such marine protected areas rests with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has not invoked complete closures on the commercial and recreational harvesting of all fish and invertebrates in provincial marine protected areas. Several marine protected areas have no closures at all. Youds (1985) noted, “the marine conservation value of foreshore and subtidal provincial parkland [is] more symbolic than substantive.” Recent initiatives are, however, improving this situation.

Thirty-one coastal provincial parks are listed on the Coastal Marine Parks of British Columbia map (BC Parks, 1989a). Forty-two percent of these parks are exclusively terrestrial, with no foreshore or subtidal component. Cape Scott, which has a large foreshore and subtidal component, is not listed because it is treated as a wilderness park (Youds, 1985). The primary focus of these parks is the recreational boater (Deardon, 1985; Chettleburgh, 1985) and not the preservation of representative marine ecosystems or biodiversity.

Parks Plan 90 (BC Parks, 1990a) offered little hope for improvement in the representation and protection of marine environments in the provincial parks system. In Landscapes for B.C. Parks (BC Parks, 1990a) it was stated that,

It is a reasonable argument that park visitors, being largely land-based (even if they are boating or diving), are not inclined to seek recreational or appreciative experiences in these offshore, oceanic areas. These are areas of industrial interest (commercial fishing, shipping) but of marginal direct interest to the general public. Furthermore, the provincial Park Act has significant jurisdictional limitations in such areas. Therefore, it has been concluded that at this time offshore marine environments should be excluded from the Landscapes system and from consideration within the provincial parks system.

At present (December, 1993), there are 50 Class A provincial parks and 3 recreational areas that have an inter-tidal and/or subtidal component, totalling 92,399 hectares of marine waters (Table 28-2). Since Parks Plan 90 was written, BC Parks has recently shown renewed interest in provincial marine protected areas. The recent establishment of Broughton Archipelago Marine Park, which encompasses a large area of marine waters, constitutes a significant step toward more adequately protecting marine ecosystems and biodiversity.

British Columbian Ecological Reserves With Marine Components

In 1971, the Ecological Reserves Act was passed, formalizing the B.C. Ecological Reserves Program. Setting aside important, unique, or representative ecosystems and species is the main objective, with conservation and research being the primary function of the Ecological Reserves Program (BC Parks, 1989b). Most reserves are open to the public for non-destructive observational use but, unlike provincial parks, they are not created for outdoor recreation.

Of the 134 ecological reserves established in B.C. to date, 15 have intertidal and/or subtidal areas (Table 28-3). Only 13 of these are presently included in the ecological reserves system because reserves #95 and #96 have been transferred to federal jurisdiction to be included in Gwaii Haanas/S. Moresby National Park Reserve and National Marine Park Reserve. The 13 marine ecological reserves include estuarine, semi-protected, and exposed sites, as well as south and north coast localities. Most of these reserves are small (50-350 hectares), which brings up the whole question of the minimum reserve size necessary to maintain viable populations, a topic much discussed in the conservation biology literature (Gilpin and SoulŽ, 1986; Newmark, 1987, Usher, 1987). However, some of the smaller reserves seem appropriate for protecting local, unique, or especially diverse habitats, such as Race Rocks (reserve #97), Kerouard Islands, (reserve #96), and Pine, Storm, Tree Islands (reserve # 120).

The 13 ecological reserves include 47,697 hectares of marine waters. Two of them are noteworthy for their size and extensive subtidal areas: Byers, Conroy, Harvey, and Sinnett Islands (reserve # 103) and Checleset Bay (reserve # 109). The Checleset Bay Ecological Reserve is over 98% marine, runs 30 kilometres from east to west, and covers a total area of 346.5 square kilometres. It includes diverse habitats, both intertidal and subtidal. This showpiece reserve was set aside December 10, 1981 to provide sufficient high-quality marine habitat for reintroduced sea otters (Enhydra lutris), an endangered species.

Race Rocks (Ecological Reserve #97) in the Strait of Juan de Fuca has the most protected status of any marine protected area in the province. It is closed (by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans) to the commercial and recreational harvesting of all marine life except for recreational (sport) fishing of salmon and halibut. (Ed note: now closed to all in 2006–due to RockFish protection areas) The reasoning behind this decision is that salmon and halibut are migratory finfish and, therefore, transient in the reserve, so closing these fisheries in the reserve will do nothing to conserve these species. However, accidental catch of resident fish in the reserve, especially rockfish, is a matter of concern.

An additional 12 ecological reserves which do not contain marine waters do nevertheless, protect important marine features and organisms, such as seabird colonies and seal or sea lion haul-out sites. Collectively, provincial marine parks and ecological reserves cover 0.06% of B.C.’s marine environment (out to the 12 mile limit).

Name of Park or Recreational Area Area (ha) of Marine Component
Botanical Beach 120.0
Brooks Peninsula (R.A.) 5,832.0
Broughton Archipelago Marine Park 10,034.0
Cape Scott Park 1,450.0
Codville Lagoon Marine Park 315.0
Copeland Islands Marine Park 257.0
Cormorant Channel Provincial Park 505.0
Desolation Sound Marine Park 2,550.0
Echo Bay 0.5
Fjordland (R.A.) 6,645.0
Gabriola Sands 4.5
Garden Bay 0.5
Green Inlet Marine Park 17.9
Hakai (R.A.) 56,987.0
Halkett Bay 19.0
Harmony Islands Marine Park 26.0
Helliwell Provincial Park 2,803.0
Jackson Narrows Marine Park 30.0
Kitson Island 24.7
Klewnuggit Inlet Marine Park 304.0
Lowe Inlet Marine Park 212.0
Manson’s Landing 53.0
Miracle Beach Park 27.5
Mitlenatch I. Nature Park 119.0
Montague Harbour Marine Par k 3.0
Naikoon Park 216.0
Newcastle Island Marine Park 34.0
Octopus Islands 43.0
Oliver Cove Marine Park 26.0
Parkinson Creek 80.0
Penrose Island Marine Park 1,079.0
Pirate’s Cove Marine Park 7.0
Plumper Cove Marine Park 33.5
Porteau Cove 45.5
Princess Louisa Marine Park 27.0
Princess Margaret Marine Park 340.0
Raft Cove 265.0
Rathtrevor Beach Park 240.0
Rebecca Spit Marine Park 156.0
Roscoe Bay 47.0
Rugged Point 150.0
Saltery Bay 30.0
Sandwell 9.0
Sidney Spit Marine Park 177.0
Smuggler Cove Marine Park 16.0
Teakerne Arm 10.7
Thurston Bay Marine Park 80.0
Tribune Bay Park 23.0
Union Passage Marine Park 395.0
Wallace Island 0.2
Walsh Cove 46.0
Whaleboat Island 7.0
Winter Cove 16.0

Table 28-2: Provincial Parks and Recreation Areas with Marine Components

Reserve Number Reserve Name and Location Description
Area (ha) of Marine
Baeria Rocks, Barkley Sound
Seabird colony and subtidal marine life
45. V.J. Krajina, W. coast Graham I. Virgin marine shoreline 100.00
66. Ten Mile Point, Victoria Inter- and subtidal marine life 10.00
67. Satellite Channel, between Saltspring Island and Saanich Peninsula Subtidal marine life 343.30
94. Oak Bay Islands, east of Victoria Seabirds and marine life 163.00
Anthony Island, south of Gwaii Haanas (South Moresby) Seabird colony
*96. Kerouard Islands, south of Gwaii Haanas (S. Moresby) Seabird colony
97 Race Rocks, southwest of Victoria Outstanding marine community,
sea-lion haul-out, seabirds
103. Byers, Conroy, Harvey & Sinnett Islands, Hecate Strait Important seabird and marine mammal breeding areas 11,780.00
109. Checleset Bay, northwest of Kyuquot, Vancouver Island Extensive marine shoreline, reefs and islets provide habitat for BC’s prime sea otter population; seabirds, marine life 33,150.00
111. Robson Bight (Michael Bigg), Johnstone Strait Killer whales and a crucial part of
their habitat; pristine estuary
119. Tahsish River, west coast of Vancouver Island, south of Port McNeill Pristine westcoast estuary 50.00
120. Duke of Edinburgh (Pine/Storm/Tree Islands), northwest of Port Hardy, Vancouver Island Largest seabird nesting colony in BC; spectacular inter- and subtidal marine life 535.00
121. Brackman Island, north of Sidney, Vancouver Island Inter- and subtidal marine life 30.00
129. Klaskish River, southwest of Port Alice, Vancouver Island Estuary with native oysters 40.00
. * now part of Gwaii Haanas/South Morsby National Park Reserve and National Marine Park Reserve

Table 28-3: B.C. Ecological Reserves with Marine Components.

Inadequacy of Existing Marine Protected AreasIs marine biodiversity adequately protected and are marine ecosystems adequately represented by our present system of marine protected areas? The answer has to be an unequivocal no. Existing areas have not been established with uniform biological criteria or an overview of the region. Few, if any, protect entire ecosystems (especially the land/sea interface), and the organisms in existing areas are inadequately protected.

As an example of the management problems common to marine protected areas in B.C., I would like to briefly review three of the marine ecological reserves: Baeria Rocks, Checleset Bay, and Robson Bight (Michael Bigg). In these three cases, the management problems (identified in the Management Statements produced by the Ecological Reserves Program [BC Parks, 1990b]) arise from the jurisdictional complexities in the marine environment, and the failure of other agencies, in particular the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, to establish complete protection, through closures, for all marine organisms in these reserves.


Baeria Rocks


Recreational fishing under the jurisdiction of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (federal) has wiped out the entire adult rockfish population. Rockfish populations are in trouble in other areas of the coast, too. These fish are long-lived and resident; many live 70-80 years and don’t reach reproductive maturity until 20 years of age (personal communication on August 29, 1990 with Andy Lamb, Department of Fisheries and Oceans).


Checleset Bay

Clearcut logging under the jurisdiction of the provincial Ministry of Forests has negatively impacted the reserve through increased runoff and ocean turbidity. The infamous clearcut on Mt. Paxton, which was portrayed as a three page foldout in National Geographic Magazine (Findley, 1990), borders on Checleset Bay. Until recently, both finfish and shellfish harvesting, under the jurisdiction of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, were occurring in the reserve. Marine charts do not indicate the existence of this (or any other) marine reserve, and logging barge traffic, which is under the jurisdiction of Transport Canada (federal), traverses the reserve.


Robson Bight (Michael Bigg)

In the Tsitika Valley, clearcuts made under the jurisdiction of the provincial Ministry of Forests are the big concern, as they may lead to increased erosion and sedimentation in the estuary. On October 3, 1990, the Federal government (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) recommended a moratorium on all logging in the area. The federal /provincial Johnstone Strait Killer Whale Committee final report released in June 1992 (Canada and British Columbia,1992) recommended an immediate five year moratorium on all forest harvesting in the lower Tsitika. Other highlights of the twenty-seven management recommendations in the report are: the Department of Fisheries and Oceans should immediately designate a Special Management Zone in the killer whale (Orcinus orca) core area of western Johnstone Strait: BC Parks should expand the land portion of the Ecological Reserve south and cast to provide a better buffer for the rubbing beaches, and expand the marine portion of the Reserve one kilometre east; Department of Fisheries and Oceans should eliminate mooring and commercial fishing within the expanded boundaries of the marine portion of the Ecological Reserve; the Reserve should be closed to all vessels, except by permit: and Department of Fisheries and Oceans should manage salmon stocks in a conservative manner in this area.

The management issues in both Checleset Bay and Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) underscore the need to protect whole ecosystems, not just individual species or portions of their immediate habitat. Yet, the many different levels of government with jurisdictional control over different parts of a single ecosystem are managing on a species rather than on an ecosystem basis.

Nor will simply setting aside marine protected areas be enough to preserve the biota. Monitoring and further research into individual species biology and ecosystem dynamics are particularly needed. So also are much more knowledge about the basic stewardship of protected areas (Deblinger and Jenkings, 1991) and significantly enhanced cooperation between provincial, federal, municipal and First Nations governments, including a more formal mechanism for facilitating cooperation on a regular basis (Westwater Research Centre, 1992b).

Even if marine protected areas within British Columbia were given complete sanctuary status, which they should be, they still would be inadequate for protecting much of the marine life within their boundaries if the marine environment outside their boundaries is not being utilized in a sustainable fashion. International transboundary issues with Alaska and Washington State are also a concern (Across the Border, 1992).

Threats to Marine Biodiversity

We do not have a history of sustainably managing living marine resources. Eradication of the sea otter from our coast around the turn of the century and the consequent sea urchin population explosion has left us with highly modified, rocky nearshore ecosystems that are much lower in seaweed biomass and diversity, than they should be (Chapter 11, this volume). By the early 1900s, whaling had eliminated humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) populations from the Strait of Georgia (Merilees, 1985). Before 1913, over 3,800 Steller’s sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) used the islands of The Sea Otter Group in the Scott Islands as a breeding rookery. Between 1913 and 1938, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans machine-gunned 29,800 animals, resulting in the permanent demise of The Sea Otter Group rookery (Obee and Ellis, 1992). The three remaining sea lion rookeries in the Scott Islands are the most important ones along the B.C. coast. The current population of Steller’s sea lions is only about one third of its former size, and the population has not recovered appreciably since being protected in 1970 (Olesiuk and Bigg, 1988).

Due to poor recruitment of young abalone into the population, both the commercial and recreational fisheries for northern abalone (Hatiotis kamtschatkana) are closed for five years (Department of Fisheries and Oceans, 1990a). Many other non-traditional invertebrate species such as the geoduck clam (Panopea generosa), red sea urchin (Stongylocentrotus

franciscanus) and sea cucumber (Stichopus califomicus) represent “gold-rush” fisheries that are being operated on an experimental basis because their biology is incompletely known (Jamieson and Francis, 1986). Many of these species are locally ecologically important because they affect the distribution and abundance of other organisms in the system. Giant geoduck clams have an average age of seventy years and may live as long as one hundred and forty years (Jamieson and Francis, 1986). These clams are being harvested by divers using a technique that is the underwater equivalent of strip-mining.

Due to declining stocks, the commercial lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus) fishery in the Strait of Georgia is closed and strict size limits have been instituted for the sport fishery (Department of Fisheries and Oceans, 1990b). Rockfish populations throughout the coast have shown drastic declines, over the past twenty years, due to overfishing (personal communication on October 29, 1992 with Bernie Hanby, Sport Fishing Advisory Board).

Sources of pollutants in the B.C. marine environment include municipal effluent (point-source and non point-source), dumping of dredged material, pulp and paper mill discharges, mine tailings, oil spills and related environmental mishaps. Despite government assurances (Langford et al., 1988) that marine environmental quality has declined along only a small percentage of the B.C. coastline, there is cause for serious concern because the chronic, sublethal toxic and synergistic effects of pollutants in B.C.’s marine ecosystems are poorly understood (Kay, 1989).

In the most recent synopsis of marine environmental quality on the Pacific Coast, Wells and Rolston (1991) state, “Signs of widespread ecosystem stress have been detected and degradation is pronounced in many inshore waters along the coast.” Dioxins/ furans and other organochlorine discharges from pulp mills are recent examples of land-based marine pollution that have had a significant local impact on marine organisms and associated fisheries in B.C. Chlorinated organic chemicals are also becoming more widespread through bioaccumulation in migratory seabirds and marine mammals (Wells and Rolston, 1991).

Some of the competing and potentially incompatible uses of the marine environment are summarized in Table 28-4. At present, all these uses are under the jurisdiction and control of various levels of government, different agencies, and legislation. Because the land and sea portions of the coastal zone have been managed separately, often with an ad-hoe approach, the ecological integrity of the zone has not always been adequately protected (Ray, 1988 and 1991). This fragmented approach has left us without an adequate overview of coastal zone planning, use, and management (Hildebrand, 1989).

1) Preservation/Conservation of wilderness, biodiversity, & unique or representative marine ecosystems

2) Marine environmental education areas

3) Scientific research areas

4) Preservation of the cultural heritage of first nations people

5) Historic sites

6) Recreation areas/tourism

7) Fisheries (finfish, invertebrates, marine plants)

8) Mariculture sites

9) Port sites

10) Oil & gas exploration/extraction

11) Mineral extraction

12) Ocean dumping

13)Discharge of pollutants (land-based, from point source & non-point source)

14) Marine transportation

15) Log handling

16) Undersea pipelines & transmission lines

17) Military uses

Table 28-4: Competing and Potentially Incompatible Uses of the Marine Environment.

Day and Gamble (1990) made a number of innovative recommendations for improving the approach to coastal zone management in British Columbia, but few if any have been acted on. As C™tŽ (1989) pointed out, our policies for addressing problems in the coastal zone are largely focused on symptoms rather than causes.

Coastal Zone Stewardship

Our dealings with the marine environment have tended to be exploitative, with emphasis on short-term gain rather than long-term sustainability. We need to transform ourselves from “gold-rush fishers” to responsible stewards of our marine environment and its diverse biological treasures. Integrated coastal planning, to date, has tended to focus on a relatively few major river estuaries, such as the Fraser (Dorcey, 1991), the Squamish, and the Cowichan (Morgan et al., 1988). There is now an urgent need to extend this approach to the entire B.C. coast. Four key steps are needed to do so.

First, coastal zone planning, research, and management need to be coordinated and a coastal ecosystem classification scheme and inventory developed. Similar recommendations were made fifteen years ago by The Coastal Zone Resource Subcommittee (1 977a) but, regrettably, these have been largely ignored. The marine and estuarine habitat classification system developed by Dethier (1990) for Washington State could be adapted for use in B.C. Existing baseline information should be compiled and data gaps identified, as was done by the Coastal Zone Resource Subcommittee (1977b). Wherever possible, data should be incorporated into a central data base with GIS (Geographic Information System) capability, so that maps providing information specific to a particular location can be generated. The provincial Ministry of the Environment’s Environmental Emergency Services Branch has developed such a marine data base for its Oil Spill Shoreline Sensitivity Model. At present, though, this data base is limited to the south coast and its main purpose is to identify shorelines sensitive to oil spills and cleanup operations (Howes and Wainwright, 1992). Only in this way will it be possible to determine the status of marine conservation and use in B.C.’s coastal zone.

The second step should be to ensure that the system of marine protected areas adequately represents genetic, species and ecosystem diversity. The Endangered Spaces Project’s (Earthlife Canada Foundation, 1991) land-use planning proposal for the Province of B.C. would provide an excellent framework for such an undertaking for the marine environment.

It is hoped that the new provincial Protected Areas Strategy (BC Parks and Ministry of Forests, 1992) will address marine protected area issues. Since conservation proposals for terrestrial ecosystems recommend preservation of twelve percent of the land-base (Brundfland, 1987), we should also set a goal of preserving, in marine protected areas, twelve percent (by area and content) of all marine assets in the coastal zone of B.C. These areas should be one hundred percent protected from consumptive use of any marine organisms. Other jurisdictions are far ahead of us in marine conservation. New Zealand is targeting ten percent of its coastal marine environment to be set aside in marine reserves (Ballantine, 1991) and complete marine fishery reserves are being proposed for the southeast coast of the United States (Plan Development Team, 1990). Bohnsack (1992) has presented extensive evidence that such reserves are the best method for protecting biodiversity and natural community equilibrium.

The third step should be to allocate more money for research on the basic biology and population dynamics of fish, invertebrates, marine mammals, and marine plants. Improved stewardship of the coastal zone also depends on experimental research into ecosystem function (Dorcey, 1983).

Fisheries often have been managed to maximize economic returns, frequently with inadequate knowledge of the biology of harvested species or consideration of the effects of harvesting on the rest of the ecosystem. As noted by Jamieson and Caddy (1986) “Economic considerations form the bottom line of most management situations…” However, Jamieson (1986) cautions that “most invertebrate fisheries, then, will never warrant or command large investments in data collection, monitoring or research, and may never be supported by data bases and assessments adequate for active management.” In view of this lack of information, experimental fisheries, such as the invertebrate fisheries and the newly established shark fishery (Pynn, 1991), should not be allowed. The shark fishery, especially, should be halted, since a recent report (Manire and Gruber, 1990) has revealed that many shark species in the United States and elsewhere may be headed toward extinction due to overfishing! There are four main problems with experimental fisheries (Dethier et al., 1989):

  1. by the time a problem is recognized (through, for example drops in catch/unit effort or in local population size), it may be serious and potentially irreversible, and
  2. it is politically difficult to close an established fishery.

The fourth and perhaps most important step is to recognize and respond to the need for increased public awareness and input on matters of coastal zone use and stewardship, in general, and marine protected areas, in particular (Kaza, 1988). There is an urgent need for conservation groups, and other non-governmental organizations, to extend their interests from their traditional terrestrial focus, or specific marine species bias, to the whole marine environment and its biota. Initiatives and groups such as the Vancouver Island Shorelines Workshop (Smiley et al., 1991; sponsored by The Federation of B.C. Naturalists and the Vancouver Island Natural History Clubs), the Marine Life Sanctuaries Society of B.C the National Marine Conservation Forum, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society marine protected areas resolution (Ianson and Moore, 1992), and the Westwater Research Centre’s Marine Protected Areas Workshops (Westwater Research Centre, 1992a, 1992b, and 1992c) are to be applauded. The only significant proposal for establishing more marine protected areas that I am aware of is The Valhalla Society’s Endangered Wilderness map (Valhalla Society, 1988 and 1992).

Preservation and conservation of marine biodiversity from an ecosystem perspective should be the primary objectives for coastal zone stewardship. Socio-economic and political considerations are important, but should be secondary to achieving long-term viability of natural systems in the coastal zone.

If we want to keep our marine wilderness and biodiversity intact for future generations, we need to act now.


Canadian NSERC Operating Grant 580384 supported this work. Paul Gabrielson, William Jewell College made several helpful suggestions for improving the manuscript. Andy Lamb and the Marine Life Sanctuaries Society of B.C. provided Special information on the invertebrate fisheries. Doug Swanston brought to my attention the Coast the Marine Life Sanctuaries Society archives, which contain much early correspondence on the subject of marine parks (primarily the work of Betty Pratt Johnson). The following individuals from the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks helped with information: Greg Chin, Kerry Joy, Kaaren Lewis, Mike Murta, Roger Norrish. and Hans Roemer. National parks people who were most helpful included: Bill Henwood and Claude Monclor. Larry Golden brought important references on marine invertebrate fisheries and marine environmental quality to my attention. Patricia Clay brought several important references on coastal zone management to my attention. Richard Kyle Paisley, Westwater Research Centre made many helpful suggestions regarding jurisdiction and legislation pertaining to the marine environment. Jim Bohnsack, US National Marine Fisheries Service, provided key literature on the ecological basis for using marine fishery reserves for reef resource management. Bill Ballantine, University of Auckland, Leigh Marine Laboratory provided inspiration and many helpful ideas regarding the establishment of marine protected areas. Denise Bonin suggested several improvements to the paper.


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