Georgia Strait Alliance is the only citizens' group focused on protecting the marine environment in and around the whole Strait of Georgia – Canada's most at-risk natural environment, and the place where 70% of British Columbians live, work and play. We are committed to a future for our region that includes clean water and air, healthy wild salmon runs, rich marine life and natural areas, and sustainable communities.

November 29, 2012

There's more than tankers out there!

Ships at anchor, English Bay VancouverAnyone who spends time traveling around or gazing out on Georgia Strait will see ships here there and everywhere in the region. The anchored ships in English Bay, Vancouver are a world renowned spectacle for tourists, travelers  and business visitors alike. Personally I love to see them and greatly appreciate how they bring many of the goods that my family and I need to this part of the world.

In the Port of Metro Vancouver there are well over 3000 ships entering and exiting each year and that does not include BC Ferries. Nanaimo sees over 200 and Victoria the same once again not including all the ferry trips.  While many of the ships look similar they perform a wide range of functions. From ferries to oil tankers, bulk carriers to container vessels, military vessels to large pleasure craft and cruise ships to break bulk. More information about ships in Georgia Strait is available on our main website.

Excluding tankers, an average ship is over 2 football fields in length and carries over 1.5 million litres in fuel oil. Add in oil tanker traffic and that's a lot of hydrocarbons floating around our waters. For the most part, the shipping industry is very conscientious and usually gets  them in and out of here without incident. However there have been accidents and oil has been spilled here. Just like the increasing tanker traffic that has had so much media attention lately, the more other ships we have transiting our waters, the more risk we have of a hydrocarbon spill.

So in order to keep those risks at an acceptable level it behooves us as a society to ensure that those shipping trips are necessary and that the goods that are being shipped are needed. Ninety percent of world goods are transported by ships and unfortunately some of those goods are just satisfying consumer wants and/or perceived needs.  I suspect that the production, transportation and use of some products could do more harm than good when you look at the bigger picture of world environmental and socioeconomic sustainability. Oil and coal might come immediately to mind but there are many other examples. What would it take to ensure all products shipped fit into a world view of sustainable development as outlined by the Bruntland Commission Report way back in 1987?

"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". It contains two key concepts:
  • the concept of "needs", in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
  • the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs."
Your respectful thoughts are welcome.

Time to help protect the southern Georgia Strait

Have you written your letter to Parks Canada about moving the feasibility process along to create permanent protection for the incredible, amazing, unique and essential marine environment of the southern Strait of Georgia?  Here's some help in making it happen! (With thanks to Canadian Parks and Wilderness Committee!)

Feel free to copy and paste parts of this letter to make it easier to write your own. Yours can be as brief and to the point or as long and elaborate as you like.
You can compose and post your letter here.
The Georgia Strait will love you for it!

Subject: Southern Strait of Georgia Marine Conservation Area (NMCA)
To whom it may concern:
I am writing this letter to show my strong support for the establishment of the proposed National Marine Conservation Area in the southern Georgia Strait.  The body of water that lies within the current proposed NMCA boundary is very special to me because… (I live there, I visit there, I take the ferry across all the time, I have watched whales there, I take visitors there, I have a cabin ... (you get the point). I love the ocean, I value the ocean ecosystem, I care about the marine species... I want my children, grandchildren to be able to experience this amazing environment, etc..  For some reminders, see our website.

I support the proposed NMCA because it will protect and maintain the integrity of the marine environment in the most threatened ecosystem in Canada. It will also ensure that the multitude of ongoing marine activities are managed in an ecologically sustainable manner.
I support the primary goals of the NMCA proposal stated by Parks Canada as 'conservation, public understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment" (Parks Canada, Project Update 2012).

In addition to my support for its establishment, I would like to add:
(Add as many as you would like)
  • The NMCA should be as large as possible in order to facilitate the appropriate zoning for bothconservation and sustainable use. 
  • I urge the inclusion of the large rectangular area just off Galiano and Valdes Islands that is 'cut out' of the current proposed boundary. 
  • The NMCA should extend up to the high tide line and include important near-shore ocean habitats. 
  • The NMCA should encompass areas adjacent to existing provincial parks (these areas are currently excluded) to ensure effective management of the entire marine area. 
  • Parks Canada should assume management responsibility for the entire NMCA upon establishment, as opposed to the proposed “phased implementation” plan.  I am concerned that a phased implementation approach will leave important marine areas without protection and fragment the integrated management of the area.
  • I support the need for a network of core 'no take' areas  to be included in the NMCA.  Prominent scientists and marine experts have recommended that at least 30% of  each Canadian marine bioregion should be zoned as 'reserves' or 'no take' areas in order to achieve conservation and fisheries benefits. (CPAWS,2011, Science Based Guidelines for Marine  Protected Area and MPA Networks in Canada). In the Southern Strait of Georgia NMCA, a network of 'no take' areas will act as nurseries to increase the number of fish, prevent habitat damage, allow depleted species to recover and allow for a diversity of life to flourish and serve as educational and recreational resources.

Thank you for taking the time to consider the above feedback and your continued efforts to protect the southern Strait of Georgia marine ecosystem.

[your name]

  • (Thanks from all of us who love the Georgia Strait too!)

November 23, 2012

Cohen said...

It seems everyone has found quotes in the final report from the Cohen commission to back up their established position on open net cage salmon farms. The industry claims that he found no problem with the farms and people who have been concerned about the farms for years are calling for their immediate removal.

Who’s right? What’s the real story? What does this report really say?

The report is quite daunting, 1100+ pages of testimony and documentation. Judge Cohen did a remarkable and thorough job of investigation and sifting of information to come up with 75 recommendations regarding a number of factors that seem to be impacting the health and well being of the Fraser River Sockeye.

From the very beginning of the Inquiry, salmon aquaculture has taken centre stage and continues to do so. British Columbians long for this issue to be resolved. We care deeply about this amazing fish and have little tolerance for threats to its well being.

Here’s my summary interpretation of Judge Cohen’s assessment of the part that salmon aquaculture has played in the decline of Fraser River Sockeye:
• Disease from the open net pen farms appears to be a major and potentially irreversible risk to Fraser River Sockeye.
• The data required to actually verify the degree of risk was not collected or interpreted adequately by DFO.
• This lack of transparent verifiable information is a result of DFO’s conflicting mandate to promote the industry.
• Siting criteria for open net farms should include proximity to migrating Fraser River Sockeye and farms not adhering to these criteria should be removed.
• The Discovery Island area open net pen farms are in the migration path of the Fraser River Sockeye.
• Production increases in the Discovery Island must not be permitted unless risk can be proven to be minimal.
• Fraser River salmon are important enough to British Columbians that we will not accept anything more than a minimal risk to them.
• DFO has to prove that there is no more than a minimal risk in order for the farms to continue after 2020 and they can only act on this once the conflicting mandate is removed.

This is what I understand, but I suggest you look for yourself. The whole report might be daunting, but the summary is manageable and a good read and Judge Cohen made some interesting comments and observations about our care and protection of this beloved BC fish. I highly recommend you read it and tell us what you think!
For more interpretation of the Cohen recommendations see our website: and

November 19, 2012

Down at the Dock: Clean Marine BC sees real, positive results!

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking to the Duncan-Cowichan Chamber of Commerce on Perspectives on the Marine Economy. My talk focused on our Clean Marine BC green boating and marina eco-certification program, and how a clean marine environment is critical to a healthy coastal economy here in BC. Alongside teachers and politicians, the room was full of marine industry representatives, so I was expecting a tough crowd.

Photos taken at Maple Bay Marina by David Messier
The common misconception is that jobs and protecting the environment do not go hand in hand. The reality is that it costs too much not to protect our environment, but that kind of message can fall upon deaf ears. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how receptive the folks were to the idea that marine conservation is good business.  I was also lucky. Lucky that speaking right after me was a real life example of how this is true. Carol Messier of Maple Bay Marina spoke from the marine industry perspective. Maple Bay Marina is one of GSA’s eight eco-certified marinas, and among the highest ranking marinas within the program with 4 anchors (no marina has yet achieved the highest 5 anchor rating).

Carol spoke of many wonderful things going on at Maple Bay, but I was most excited to hear about how their hard work and commitment to marina environmental best practices is paying of for the marine environment, and for their business!

"We believe our participation in the Clean Marine BC program has been good for our business. The practical information presented by GSA and the collaborative nature of it, has helped us to improve the natural environment in and around the marina. This has translated into better boating experiences and in turn helps us to earn and retain high quality customers. It is also very satisfying to see the eel grass beds returning naturally along with the salmon fry and other wildlife." - Maple BayMarina

There you have it…Clean Marine BC is good for salmon, eelgrass, and business. We couldn’t ask for anything better, down at the dock!

November 8, 2012

Meet Megapus

If you haven't had the pleasure of encountering the new addition to the Georgia Strait Communities Atlas team yet, I officially introduce you to Megapus (that crazy looking critter to the right).  This multi-talented octopus, cleverly constructed by our summer career placement students, (Deanna McGillivray and Isabelle Gendron-Lemieux) attracted many visitors to GSA’s information tables at events over the summer.  Megapus not only gave us more opportunities to talk with people about the Georgia Strait Alliance, but having been crafted to record video, also provided a unique opportunity for people to 'talk to the octopus' and share what they value or are concerned about in the Georgia Strait…I mean, how could you say no to that face?

This is what people had to 'say to the octopus' at the, Powell River Open Air Market, Car Free Day and Vancouver Folk Festival;    

Did you know that you can submit your own videos to the Georgia Strait Communities Atlas?

It has always been a goal of the Communities Atlas project to engage the public to participate in the creation of a rich and informative Local Knowledge layer.  The Local Knowledge Atlas layer, a collection of submitted content that captures everything from observations of wildlife to concerns about shoreline development, helps us to understand what's important to citizens both in specific communities and region-wide. With the launch of the new Communities Atlas we have been exploring ways to increase public involvement and inspire people's creativity in helping to capture how we experience life on the Georgia Strait and how we envision a healthy future for our coastal communities.

What would you say to the octopus?  Sign up to the Communities Atlas to submit your videos and pictures.  We are currently looking, in particular, for stories about success stories of current marine protection/conservation projects and initiatives around Georgia Strait, but of course, whatever you would like to share is most welcome!

November 1, 2012

Tankers, Thanks and Banks

Adapted from original publication on smallchangefund Blog

Oil tankers shipping out of Vancouver Harbour were really not paid much attention to by the general public a couple of years ago, and maybe even just a year ago. The increase seen over the last decade did not get much publicity and the fact that tankers of some form or another have been using our waterways since the turn of the last century seemed to make it less threatening. Thanks to a perfect storm of different but colliding events, all that is rapidly changing. Certainly all the publicity about dirty tar sands oil has been part of it and Enbridge’s beleaguered Northern Gateway Pipeline project, the climate change debate, Keystone XL pipeline kerfuffle in the US and the Kalamazoo pipeline spill in Michigan. 

However even before Kinder Morgan’s announcement earlier this year of intentions to build a second pipeline to Vancouver from the tar sands, Georgia Strait Alliance (GSA) and a few others were starting to be concerned about the steady but seemingly silent, increase in tanker traffic through Burrard Inlet and the ecologically sensitive Salish Sea. After some extensive research we published the first version of our citizen's guide to tankers, oil spills and the risks to our region late last year and we have updated it recently to reflect the current situation.

Why would GSA be concerned about a few tankers traveling our waters when there are so many other issues facing this fantastic body of water we work to protect? Well, when I give presentations I explain that what is happening to Georgia Strait is like the death by a thousand cuts. Each travesty of pollution or inappropriate development that befalls it is cumulative and at some stage, if enough is done, Georgia Strait would eventually become like so many other devastated bodies of water. That being said, the damage that is currently being done, can (at least partially) be undone or stopped, and over the years we have lead many projects which have helped restore parts of Georgia Strait or served to protect it.  We believe our work and that of others will save Georgia Strait as a place of much natural beauty and biological diversity.

That, however, would all change if we have a major oil spill here and anything that increases the likelihood of that happening is of real concern to us.  If we have a catastrophic spill here we simply do not have the capability or resources to stop the irreparable damage to the ecology, economy and social fabric of this region. It would be a disaster in the real meaning of the word. Also of considerable concern to us is the fact that our communities have not been given any real opportunity to say if they are willing to take the risks of tar sands crude being shipped through our waters. That is something we are working toward on a number of different levels from our petition  and information on our website and in print to our liaison and email listserve hosting with other groups working on this issue and contribution to reports to meeting with Industry representatives.  

To do that we need funding, and this is the point we’d really like to thank our current funders including Patagonia, MEC and smallchangefund for all their support and promotion and all the wonderful donors who are contributing to our work. Thanks for going to your banks to help make our community voice on crude oil tankers a strong one. If you have not had a chance to contribute yet please do so on our website or by calling our office at 250-753-3459.
Many thanks!