Our Threatened Coast: Nature and Shared Benefits in the Salish Sea

The biological diversity of the Salish Sea – its plants and animals- are captured in our values, shape our cultural identity and are linked to economic benefits in the billions of dollars. This region and its species are priceless and irreplaceable; a worth immeasurable in monetary terms.  It is no place for tar sands oil tankers.

Our Threatened Coast 12 MB (PDF) [icon icon=”external-link”]

Salish sea cover


This overview identifies the need for cumulative effect assessments of proposed coastal energy and shipping projects; it also identifies the failings of existing assessments concerning increased vessel traffic and oil spill risk. It concludes that purported economic benefits of fossil fuel export projects, such as Trans Mountain, are insignificant when weighed against a more holistic examination of the Salish Sea’s value. At a time in which the Salish Sea’s non-human residents face a myriad of pressures, we are encouraging everyone to consider how they, personally, value the Salish Sea, and to share this with decision makers empowered to protect it.

Preface (PDF) [icon icon=”external-link”]

Chapter 1. A Dirty Energy Superpower

Canada’s increasing extraction of nonrenewable resources like oil, gas (LNG), and coal now threatens a broad range of species and habitats from the arctic to the coastal temperate rainforest. Questionable economic benefits, lasting environmental degradation, a heavy carbon footprint, and risks to species and ecosystems, are all part of the public opposition to oil sands expansion. In the Salish Sea, shipping diluted bitumen to markets requires a tripling of pipeline and oil tanker capacity.  In addition to these oil tanker increases, another tripling of vessel traffic (container and other bulk imports & exports) is anticipated. Such shipping significantly increases collision risks, oil spill risks and underwater noise.

Chapter 1: A Dirty Energy Superpower (PDF) [icon icon=”external-link”]

Chapter 2. Meet Your Neighbours

The Salish Sea has some 7,000 kilometres of shoreline habitats that support a food web for mammals, bird, fish and invertebrate species. Marine and coastal birds are either year-round residents or travellers on the Pacific Flyway, a critical migratory route that links South America to the high Arctic. Marine mammals populations have only recently recovered from large reductions in their numbers from the fur trade, whaling, predator culls, and live capture for the aquarium trade. Yet some iconic species, such as resident killer whales, show little sign of recovery.

Chapter 2. Meet Your Neighbours (PDF) [icon icon=”external-link”]

Chapter 3. What is an Ecosystem Worth

This chapter demonstrates an ecosystem of global significance with a range of natural benefits -or ecosystem services- that fundamentally support our environment, economy and society. This threatened biodiversity is the foundation of ecological values, ecosystem benefits, good and services, and the nature-based economy of the Salish Sea.

Chapter 3. What is an Ecosystem Worth (PDF) [icon icon=”external-link”]

Chapter 4. The Tourist Dollar

This chapter details the importance of Salish Sea tourism to the BC and Washington State economies as a provider of thousands of jobs and a billion dollars in visitor spending. Nature-based tourism is highlighted as just one growing sector that already employs thousands through the region and is directly reliant on the region’s ecological health.

Chapter 4. The Tourist Dollar (PDF) [icon icon=”external-link”]

Chapter 5. Recreational-behavior

This chapter profiles different recreational pursuits and their distribution throughout the Salish Sea as one proxy for values attached to the natural environment. Widely distributed recreational pursuits with high levels of participation include half a million licensed saltwater anglers, 1.8 million birders, 200,000 kayakers, and thousands of surfers.

Chapter 5. Recreational-behavior (PDF) [icon icon=”external-link”]

Chapter 6. Time Before Memory

With a cultural presence of more than 10,000 years, the Indigenous communities of the Salish Sea region have unique socio-cultural links and values. The strong and enduring indigenous culture, inextricably linked to place, exists despite decades of cultural repression and European contact that decimated Indigenous populations. Indigenous values illustrate a connection to place born of a different worldview – one that remains at the core of efforts to protect our coastal environment.

Chapter 6.Time Before Memory (PDF) [icon icon=”external-link”]

Chapter 7. The Game of Risk

Kinder Morgan’s proposal, along with other import and export expansion plans, come at a time when climate change and cumulative adverse human impacts already strain wildlife populations and ecosystems in the Salish Sea. Kinder Morgan’ assessments fail to convey the project’s inherent and cumulative risk from oil spills and underwater noise. Their assessments are based on limited biological information, a lack of scientific rigour, unsubstantiated assumptions surrounding the fate, behaviour and toxicity of diluted bitumen, unrealistic assumptions about the effectiveness of oil spill response and the recovery of oil exposed habitats and species -many of which are already under stress from other factors. Their conclusions are fraught with an unacceptable degree of uncertainty, are not supported by the scientific literature, and often not supported by their own information.

Chapter 7. The Game of Risk (PDF) [icon icon=”external-link”]

Conclusion: The choice is ours

Failure to reconcile ecology and commerce has been a hallmark of domestic and international policy for decades because a fundamental conflict exists between economic growth and conservation.  As the economy grows, natural capital (such as forests, river banks, soil, and water) is reallocated from wildlife habitat to the human economy.  Awareness is increasing of our expanding ‘human footprint’, its consequence for ecological processes, and the inextricable link between our own fate and that of the natural world.

A rising tide of public, business, and indigenous concerns relating to the shipping of tar sands oil recognise that the Salish Sea is a marvel of natural features and processes that support a remarkable diversity of life, including our own. It is priceless and irreplaceable; a worth immeasurable in monetary terms. Solutions to our energy problems are everywhere if we make the collective choice to implement them. Opening doors to these solutions begins with saying ‘no’ to converting the Salish Sea to an energy corridor for hydrocarbon extraction. From here, other protective and restorative actions can be taken to allow the priceless and irreplaceable BC coast to continue its unparalleled evolutionary journey

Literature Cited

Literature Cited (PDF) [icon icon=”external-link”]

Selected Figures

fig7.3-probability of oil presence and SRKW critical habitat-web
Figure 7.3: The probability of oil presence from a fall oil spill based on modeling done by Kinder Morgan at Turn Point in Boundary Pass, overlaid with Southern Resident Killer Whale critical habitat.
fig7.4-probability of oil presence and IBAs-web
Figure 7.4 : Probability of oil presence from a fall oil spill based on modeling done by Kinder Morgan at Turn Point in Boundary Pass, overlaid with Important Bird Areas (BC and WA) and Bird Colonies (BC).
fig2.1-seal sea lions and sea otters -web
Figure 2.1 Seal and sea lion haulouts, and sea otter distribution and sightings in the Salish Sea. Note that “sightings” represent places where animals were opportunistically spotted, not systematically searched.
fig5.2-sea kayaking sites and destination campsites in the Salish Sea-web
Fig 5.2 Sea kayaking sites and destination campsites in the Salish Sea