Today kicks off the Year of the Salish Sea

Today, June 8th, is World Oceans Day and is the first day of the “Year of the Salish Sea”.

The Year of the Salish Sea (June 8, 2022-June 7, 2023) aims to bring together local First Nations, municipalities, organizations, and individuals in the Salish Sea ecosystem region to strengthen efforts for a healthy Salish Sea. This will be done through public engagement, and spreading stewardship and educational opportunities.

The initiative has three broad aims

  1. Amplify existing stewardship work and encourage collaboration between stakeholders.
  2. Call on the members of the public to learn more about the Salish Sea ecosystem.
  3. Open windows for effective and meaningful policy change.

The Year of the Salish Sea emerged from Simon Fraser University’s Semester in Dialogue cohort in the Fall of 2021. Thanks to the ongoing hard work and dedication of three SFU students, the City of Vancouver, the Town of Gibsons, and the Islands Trust Council have all declared 2022 to be the Year of the Salish Sea.  We encourage other municipalities surrounding the Salish Sea to make the same commitment!

Celebrating the Year of the Salish Sea

Raincoast became engaged with the Year of the Salish Sea (YoSS) project after being connected with the Semester in Dialogue students from SFU. Our scientists were impressed by the passion and knowledge of the students spearheading the initiative and supported their delegations to the City of Vancouver and Islands Trust. Raincoast’s coastal conservation work aligns closely with the objectives of the YoSS with many of our programs and projects focused on safeguarding the plant and animal species that call the Salish Sea home. Read more about how Raincoast’s work will advance the objectives of the YoSS below.

Gulf Islands Forest Project

Since its inception in 2019, the Gulf Islands Forest (GIF) Project has been addressing conservation challenges within Coastal Douglas-fir (CDF) forests and associated habitats characteristic to BC’s south coast, particularly on the Gulf Islands. These are rare and threatened habitats in BC. Our work here includes land protection campaigns, public education, mobilizing science for improved policy, and climate action. This work is pursued using Raincoast’s signature “informed advocacy” approach. It combines scientific inquiry with community engagement to ensure conservation outcomes are scientifically based while aligning with community and local First Nation interests. While the GIF Project has a focus on S’DÁYES or Pender Island, there is increasing involvement in initiatives across the southern Gulf Islands and throughout the regional extent of CDF forests at the edge of the Salish Sea.

To learn more about this program, get in contact with Shauna Doll, Gulf Islands Forest Project Coordinator (shauna [at] raincoast [dot] org)

Intact forest with the ocean in the background.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Fraser River Estuary Connectivity project 

The Lower Fraser River and its estuary are a highly modified environment. The delta of the Fraser estuary is fragmented by man-made structures like jetties, causeways and training walls that were built to control the arms of the Fraser river to assist ship navigation.  However these long structures change the flow of water, sediment and nutrients. They also restrict the passage of juvenile salmon that want to move onto the shallow tidal salt marshes and eelgrass to feed and grow.

More than 70% of the tidal marsh habitats that young salmon require are alienated by these human-made structures. This lack of access to the low salinity marsh habitats they need to feed, grow and adjust to salt water may be particularly harmful because it shortens the time they have to prepare their bodies for life in salt water. 

One of these problematic structures –the Steveston Jetty- is an 8 km long rock jetty constructed in the early 1900s. The jetty controls the location of the Fraser River’s main arm as it crosses the delta of the estuary. The jetty prevents juvenile salmon from moving into brackish marsh habitats on Sturgeon Bank and instead, forces them into the deeper and salty water of the Salish Sea.

In 2019, we placed three breaches in the Steveston Jetty, creating access to the marsh for juvenile salmon. We removed 7,870 tonnes of material and placed 3,278 tonnes of rock to stabilise the openings. Weekly monitoring of juvenile salmon over the last three years shows high levels of young fish (mainly Chinook, chum and pinks) passing through the breaches. In particular, high numbers of juvenile Chinook salmon -the focal species of our restoration efforts – are now reaching the Sturgeon Bank marsh. Chinook rely on estuary habitats for a crucial growth period before continuing their migration to sea.

The North Arm jetty before Raincoast constructed breaches.North Arm Jetty with a large notch in it.
Before and after restoration at the North Arm Jetty.

We recently expanded our efforts to the North Arm Jetty in the Fraser Estuary and constructed the first 30-metre wide breach in 2022. We will continue this work into 2023 with the constriction of two more breaches. This restoration work directly relates to the Year of the Salish Sea, as it provides juvenile salmon, and other species, access to habitat that they have not had for the last 100 years.

To learn more about this program, get in contact with Kristen Walters, Lower Fraser River Salmon Conservation Program Coordinator (kristen [at] raincoast [dot] org)

Southern Resident killer whales and the Cetacean Conservation Research Program

Southern Resident killer whales, who call the Salish Sea home, are critically endangered. Southern Residents are a distinct population of salmon-eating killer whales that rely on an abundant salmon food supply, especially Chinook salmon. However, that food supply has been in decline and the waters of the Salish Sea are increasingly noisy and polluted. The small population of Southern Residents (just 73 animals as of Sept 2021) has very low birth rates and premature deaths of adult whales. The birth of recent calves offers hope, but threats that impede their successful feeding and access to Chinook must be addressed for calves to survive and the population to grow. For over a decade, Raincoast has been using science, the courts and public education to further recovery efforts for endangered Southern Resident killer whales. 

To learn more about this program, get in contact with Misty MacDuffee (misty [at] raincoast [dot] org)

A Southern Resident killer whales swims by as seen from land, and a rainbow is seen in its spout, and a young whale is below.
Photo by Miles Ritter, Saturna Island.

Unfortunately, the plight of Southern Residents is not unique. Canada is home to nearly 30 marine mammal species. The majority of these cetaceans (porpoises, dolphins and whales), were historically supported by abundant and diverse fish (prey) and living in largely undisturbed offshore and coastal habitats. Sadly, many of these iconic species – considered by scientists to be indicators of ecosystem health – are at risk as a result of historical harvesting, a legacy of industrial pollution, reductions in their prey, and underwater noise and disturbance. Accordingly, in late 2021, Raincoast expanded our whale conservation work beyond the Salish Sea. The new  Cetacean Conservation Research Program, led by Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard and Dr. Valeria Vergara will study the biology, ecology and behavior of cetaceans through various projects helping us address questions that illuminate both their susceptibility and their resilience to anthropogenic threats, and that contribute to the development and assessment of mitigation efforts.

To learn more about this program, get in contact with Valeria Vergara (valeria [at] raincoast [dot] org) or Lance Barrett-Lennard (lance [at] raincoast [dot] org).

Pod of beluga whales in bright blue water.
Photo by Valeria Vergara.

Protecting Coastal Wolves

Raincoast and its community partners continue to gain scientific understanding of wolves from the Great Bear Rainforest and across BC. This includes work on BC’s unique coastal wolves, a marine-oriented subspecies found on BC’s central coast and islands within the Salish Sea, including Vancouver Island. Genetically distinct from inland gray wolves, or from wolves in any other part of the world, coastal wolves are fast, powerful swimmers who often paddle miles between islands in search of food. Along BC’s vast coastlines, they efficiently forage in salmon streams, scavenge for shellfish and herring eggs, and feast on seals and washed-up whale carcasses. Like their larger mainland cousins, coastal wolves also hunt moose, elk, and deer. Collaborative efforts among Raincoast scientists, Indigenous communities, and several universities are creating contemporary knowledge about this globally unique wolf-deer-salmon system.

To learn more about this program get in contact with the Wolf Conservation Program Coordinator,

Chelsea Greer (chelsea [at] raincoast [dot] org).

A wolf stands relaxed in the intertidal zone in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Photo by April Bencze.

Healthy Waters Program

Water is essential for life and is shared among all living things. Water creates and sustains healthy habitats for salmon and for killer whales, and provides drinking water for people. From pesticides to tire particles in salmon streams, from PCBs in killer whales to microplastics in zooplankton, from bacteria to lead in tap water – we are all impacted by water pollution in the Salish Sea watershed. Since no single agency is responsible for the pollution of water in all its forms, there is an urgent need for a more comprehensive approach to monitoring water pollution in British Columbia – one that seamlessly captures water along its journey from headwaters to homes, street runoff to rivers, and rivers to the Salish Sea. And one that helps to identify solution-oriented priorities for all of us. Raincoast established the Healthy Waters Program in 2021 to fill this gap. 

Using a collaborative framework, we are building a water pollution monitoring plan with community water stewards, notably Indigenous Nations. The initiative will first focus on the urbanized Fraser River and Salish Sea watersheds. The collaborative process considers the needs of community members at the conception, design, implementation and dissemination phases and considers processes for input from multiple parties at each stage. 

To learn more about this program get in contact with the Healthy Waters Program Director Dr. Peter Ross (peter [at] raincoast [dot] org).

A school of salmon as seen from below in the Fraser River.
Photo by Fernando Lessa.

Salish Sea Emerging Stewards

Raincoast’s Salish Sea Emerging Stewards program has provided meaningful educaiton through seven seasons of outreach and experiential learning in the Salish Sea. The program supports youth from Indigenous communities througout the region to participate in sailing expeditions on board Raincoast’s research and education vessel, Achiever

Raincoast also supports a summer stewardship work program for youth, in partnership with the Tsawwassen First Nation’s Youth Centre. This eight week summer program focuses on presenting opportunities for young people to gain work skills and experience in field research, conservation, and environmental restoration. Lessons and mentorship for participants are provided by scientists, elders and knowledge keepers from the community. 

To learn more about this program get in contact with our Education Coordinator, Pascale Campagna-Slater.

Group of youth in the intertidal on a sunny day.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation

Getting involved in the Year of the Salish Sea

The Year of the Salish Sea officially began on World Oceans Day, June 8, 2022. To help amplify the Year of the Salish Sea in other municipalities or regional districts, collaborate, or promote ocean-centered projects, contact the organizers on the YoSS website. We encourage community members to take action and engage their local governments to declare June 8, 2022 the first day of the Year of the Salish Sea!

The Year of the Salish Sea will highlight stewards, artists, storytellers, in-person and virtual events happening from June 2022-2023 in the Salish Sea ecosystem region. To be notified about these opportunities for engagement, sign up to receive updates on the website or follow @yearofthesalishsea on Instagram and @yearofsalishsea on Twitter. If you have a personal story or memory you would like to share about the Salish Sea ecosystem or its watersheds, you can submit them along with a photo on the YoSS community-building Story Sharing page.

You can help

Raincoast’s in-house scientists, collaborating graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and professors make us unique among conservation groups. We work with First Nations, academic institutions, government, and other NGOs to build support and inform decisions that protect aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and the wildlife that depend on them. We conduct ethically applied, process-oriented, and hypothesis-driven research that has immediate and relevant utility for conservation deliberations and the collective body of scientific knowledge.

We investigate to understand coastal species and processes. We inform by bringing science to decision-makers and communities. We inspire action to protect wildlife and wildlife habitats.

Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.