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BC’s polluted Howe Sound is getting better, say researchers

Howe Sound polluted

Howe Sound polluted Howe Sound is less polluted than it was.

The Vancouver Aquarium’s Coastal Ocean Research Institute has released a new report on the ecological state of affairs in Howe Sound, the roughly 40 kilometre long inlet off the Strait of Georgia and just north of the city of Vancouver.

Documenting the status of wildlife and marine species as well as the history, present and future projections for human development in the region, the comprehensive 364-page report finds that while efforts at environmental recovery have proved successful over recent years, the area still needs more investment, both in terms of environmental research into the state of the Sound’s threatened species and concerted citizen and government action to protect the area from further damage.

Howe Sound showing recovery, not as polluted as before

“There is some good news. There are some great signs of recovery in Howe Sound,” says Andrew Day, executive director of the research institute, to the North Shore News. “We’ve seen more cetaceans in the last year than we’ve seen since the early 2000s when we started doing the citizen science counts.”

Home for much of the 20th century to one of the largest copper mines in the world, Howe Sound became a dumping ground for industrial waste, with acid rock drainage from the mine polluting the waters and killing off much of the marine wildlife. But efforts to fix the damage over the past two decades — including citizen-led and governmental initiatives to clean up the mine site and surrounding areas — have paid dividends, bringing back more native birds, freshwater fish and marine life to Howe Sound.

“We’re seeing just fantastic amounts of citizen science and community involvement and sense of place in Howe Sound,” says Andrew Day, executive director of the research institute. “Lots and lots of outdoor education camps, lots of kids out in Howe Sound and, obviously, lots of recreational use of the area.”

Yet the report targets growth in population, commercial and residential development as well as tourism as regional positives which could nonetheless prove detrimental to the area’s ecological systems if better management practices are not put in place, including designating more protected areas and creating a restoration strategy and fund.

“We uncovered a lot of data about the rapid growth in the area, and whether that’s residential growth or whether it’s industrial growth, in the past, those things have come with a cost for nature,” Day says. “Moving forward, we need to really step up our game and try to find ways where human development and human needs are not in conflict with nature… There are lots of examples around the world that use very clever engineering, very clever technology that build on this working with nature concept, rather than just pummelling it.”

The report further calls for a Howe Sound marine use plan which sets specific targets and boundaries for protecting the land and ecosystem and which builds on the already established Squamish Nation’s land use plan.

The Britannia Mine operated in the Sound between 1904 and 1974, producing runoff which led the area to be labelled the worst source of heavy metal pollution in the province. Current remediation efforts involve treatment of contaminated water which still contains heavy metal leachate at levels exceeding marine water quality guidelines

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About The Author /

Jayson MacLean
Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.

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