Launching our 10-year, place-based conservation science initiative on the Sunshine Coast

We are set to begin tracking water pollution and underwater noise on the Sunshine Coast.

Raincoast is building on our strong track record of conservation science and action to protect the lands, waters, and wildlife of coastal British Columbia. Two of our programs, Healthy Waters and the Cetacean Conservation Research Programs, are poised to launch long-term conservation science initiatives on the Sunshine Coast, made possible by the generous support of the Estate of Mrs. Mary Gordon

We are forging collaborations with the Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Centre and the Pender Harbour Ocean Discovery Station (PODS). Our ongoing efforts also include actively cultivating partnerships with the Tla’amin Nation, the Squamish Nation (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Nation), and the shíshálh Nation, the latter with its swiya Museum, fostering a collaborative approach that will contribute to both science and stewardship on the Sunshine Coast. 

Monitoring water quality on the Sunshine Coast

Clean water, essential for salmon, whales, and people, is under assault from an array of human activities. Contaminants from road runoff, wastewater, agro-forestry pesticides, and industrial emissions threaten the quality of water throughout coastal BC, while climate change alters the temperature, volume, and flow of streams and rivers. Despite the importance of an abundant supply of clean water, no single agency oversees its assessment, and too little monitoring is carried out. This lack of data limits our collective ability to understand and act on threats to aquatic environments.

Our Healthy Waters program fills this gap, delivering technical support to communities throughout BC by sampling and analyzing a variety of contaminants of concern. The program monitors water quality from source to home, road runoff, freshwater fish habitat, and marine waters, effectively documenting water contaminants from the mountains to the sea.

Our 10-year comprehensive plan (2023-32) for Healthy Waters on the Sunshine Coast 

  1. Water sampling and analysis training workshops and associated kits.
  2. Collection and analysis of pooled water samples from source water, tap water, fish habitat, road runoff, and marine waters at least once per year.
  3. Data interpretation and sharing via reports as well as a new website enabling comparisons to other watersheds and tracking over time.
  4. An annual public session to discuss outcomes, priorities, solutions, best practices, and community innovation.  

Underwater sound monitoring, education, and research on the Sunshine Coast

Underwater noise from shipping and other human activities is a serious threat to cetaceans and other marine mammals, impairing their ability to find food, communicate, and navigate. Noise mitigation is technically feasible, but its implementation is constrained by limited data on the extent of the problem, where and when it is most severe, and the contribution of natural sources such as wind and waves to overall noise levels. When mitigation measures such as vessel speed limits are put in place, it is important to collect additional data to determine their effectiveness and sufficiency.

The Sunshine Coast is an area with no existing stations to monitor underwater sound. This is particularly unfortunate given that the region and the adjacent waters of the northern Strait of Georgia have seen a dramatic increase in the abundance of humpback whales since 2015. Humpback whales are acoustically sensitive and vulnerable to noise impacts. The same area is extensively used by the critically-endangered population of Southern Residents killer whales in the winter months. Resident killer whales use echolocation to find prey, a task that is much less efficient in the presence of underwater noise.

In 2024, we will deploy an acoustic and visual monitoring station on the Sunshine Coast to monitor underwater sound and the presence of marine mammals, similar to our recently-installed monitoring station on the southwest shore of Pender Island. This initiative aims to contribute to the following projects.

The NoiseTracker project

NoiseTracker is a collaborative acoustic monitoring initiative, conceived by Cetacean Conservation Research Program co-Directors Lance Barrett-Lennard and Valeria Vergara. NoiseTracker will unite hydrophone operators along the coast in a common effort to collect underwater noise data in a systematic way and make it available to government, environmental managers, researchers, Indigenous communities, and the general public, via a free-access, user-friendly, continuously updating website. Both our Sunshine Coast and Pender Island hydrophones will supply data to NoiseTracker.

The Sunshine Coast monitoring station will provide much needed long-term data on underwater noise trends in the area to inform region-specific mitigation efforts and support noise-related outreach and training. 

The “Singing to be Heard” humpback whale project

Humpback whales sing elaborate songs that are learned socially, are culturally transmitted, and gradually evolve year-to-year. In the winter breeding grounds, songs are important for mediating social relationships and attracting mates. Humpbacks also sing in their northern latitude feeding grounds, yet little is known about the extent to which song practice is shaped by habitat use, social interactions, and vessel noise. Raincoast and the North Coast Cetacean Society are collaborating on a study, led by Dr. Erin Wall, that will use recordings from a network of hydrophones, including the planned Sunshine Coast monitoring station, to investigate song development across the whales’ North Pacific feeding grounds and to measure the impacts of underwater noise on seasonal song development.

About Mrs.  Mary Gordon

Mary Gordon was a lifelong resident of Sechelt, BC, the only daughter of early Sechelt settlers, Jim and Phyllis Parker. She was an accomplished nurse, a savvy businesswoman, and a community-minded philanthropist, who, along with her husband Cec, contributed significantly to the social and business development of Sechelt. 

Mary’s interest and passion for the natural world were a part of everyday life for her. The family home which Mary inhabited for most of her 85 years was on the Salish Sea shore and she knew the sea waters and its inhabitants in an intuitive way that only comes from decades of living on and with the ocean. Mary’s commitment to healthy oceans and their vulnerable species is continued through this legacy gift to Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Our annual report is out now!

Get highlights from the year, our science, flagship projects, staff and volunteers, as well as a peek at what’s in store for the coming year.

Research scientist, Adam Warner conducting genetics research in our genetics lab.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.