The elephant in the room

September 2009

Re: The elephant in the room, congratulations to Katherine Palmer Gordon for the in-depth article on climate change in August’s Focus.Land use plans for coastal BC will need to be revisited and recalibrated to account for rapid and unabated climate change as the spectre of sea-level rise warrants such a second look.

As reported in the journal Science in March, sustained atmospheric warming projected for the coming centuries could ultimately produce a world-wide rise in sea level of 12 metres compared with today’s levels. In the shorter term, it is currently estimated there will be more than a one-metre rise by 2100, which would have a significant impact on coastal environments.

All levels of government need to be thinking about adaptation, resilience and dynamic management; unfortunately, current static land use plans for coastal BC do not allow for this.

Sea-level rise poses a major threat to fish and wildlife throughout coastal BC as estuarine health and wetland survival will be put at risk. Pacific salmon, for instance, are estuarine-dependent and estuaries depend on wetlands to maintain water quality. As salmon move between fresh water and saltwater, they rely on both coastal and riverine wetlands to successfully complete their life cycle.

Research now suggests that several species of Pacific salmon are likely to have reduced distribution and productivity, which could, in turn, have severe results for terrestrial ecosystems. Salmon are not exclusively marine organisms and considerations about terrestrial conservation in a coastal environment are incomplete when the ecological influences of salmon are ignored.

A robust network of protected areas provides one of nature’s best opportunities to adapt to climate change. Existing parks and protected areas should be reassessed based on connectivity and migration corridors—and that includes marine migration corridors for salmon.

Chris Genovali, Executive Director
Raincoast Conservation

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