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.

February 18, 2014

What’s Not to Love About a Seawall?

It’s time to rethink how we design our shorelines

Lately I’ve been wondering for how long you can gather a group of Vancouver residents before they start finding something to complain about their city. People here love to dwell on some of the downsides of living in Vancouver: the weather, housing prices, Vancouver’s “small-town” mentality or alternatively its “big-city chill”. You can’t win! Yet, few of them are ready to pack up and leave—which may have to do with some of the things that no one ever complains about.

Things like the Seawall, for example. Born and raised Vancouverites as much as recent transplants love it dearly—and having spent most of my life far from the ocean, I am certainly one of them. There doesn’t seem to be a better way of taking in all that is Vancouver than a walk or bike ride on its 22km waterfront promenade. But the seawall is not only aesthetically pleasing; it also protects our shore against the force of the ocean.

At least that’s what I thought until I attended a conference on the impact of sea level rise on our shorelines last fall, held in Squamish and hosted by the Seagrass Conservation Working Group. Grant Lamont, a coastal engineer, explained that a seawall may look like an impenetrable bulwark against the onslaught of the elements. Yet, it only really works if everything behind it is built as robustly as the seawall itself—here is why:

Photo: Digital Journal
What a seawall does is re-direct the force of the waves upward. The image of a stranded cargo ship that Lamont used in his presentation illustrates this point very effectively. The result is a spray load on structures or trees behind a seawall that is 5 to 10 times of what it would be behind a natural beach.

This doesn’t mean we need to tear down our beloved seawall. Even with sea levels rising, the surf at Stanley Park isn’t likely to be that destructive. What it means though is that we should be thinking more thoroughly about how we use and design our waterfront.

One innovative way of designing a waterfront is the so called Green Shores approach. A key principle is to “preserve the integrity or connectivity of coastal processes.” Applied to our seawall example, this would mean creating a softer profile instead of a straight wall, which would have a smaller impact on ecosystems, allow for natural sand depositing and create a buffer zone for waves or storm surges.

A "Green Shore" under construction in Vancouver
Photo: Stewardship Centre/Raincoast Applied Ecology
The Green Shores approach is championed by the BC Stewardship Centre, one of our core partners for GSA’s newest program, the Waterfront Initiative. Launched in 2013, this initiative is all about getting people to think about how we use, design and protect the Vancouver waterfront. We are bringing together all those who rely on the city's shoreline—businesses, government, civil society and citizens—to create a vision for our waterfront that ensures we can all continue to use and enjoy it in the future.

In April, we will be hosting the first Waterfront Network meeting with stakeholders to start working on what this vision will look like, what the current state of the Vancouver shoreline is and how we can develop a measurable and accountable action plan for a waterfront that supports ecosystems, communities and a vibrant economy. There will be a public forum and celebration of our waterfront in the fall, so stay tuned!

For those who aren’t yet convinced that change is coming to the waterfront—and that it’s time to rethink how we manage it—the conference I attended provided additional food for thought. For example, on new ways of mapping areas affected by sea level rise, how to manage airports built on sinking land (think YVR), how an earthquake will likely change parts of our coast line and much more.

If you’d like more information on our Waterfront Initiative, please feel free to contact me.

February 11, 2014

LNG: coming soon to the Georgia Strait?

With the rush to develop BC’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry, new projects seem to get announced every week. They have been mainly confined to the north coast – until now.

Alongside the Discovery LNG project in early stages of development in Campbell River, and rumours of a potential export facility in Port Alberni, the Woodfibre LNG project proposed for Howe Sound has now progressed to the stage of consultation and environmental assessment.

Woodfibre proposes to build an LNG processing and export facility seven kilometres southwest of Squamish. If approved, the project would bring 40 LNG tankers through Howe Sound each year, carrying BC gas to global markets.  An associated proposal, by FortisBC Energy, would see a 52-kilometre pipeline built from Coquitlam, across the Squamish Estuary, to bring gas to the Woodfibre plant.

You can find out more about the project at a series of consultation sessions being run by Woodfibre in the Squamish area in February; you can also submit comments online any time up to February 28th.
We’ve been hearing a number of concerns from community members about the project, including:
  • The risks of an collision, spill or other accident in the handling and transport of a hazardous material like natural gas, particularly in the narrow confines of a fjord like Howe Sound
  • The day-to-day noise disturbance and other impacts of increased tanker traffic on endangered orca, humpback whales, grey whales and other marine species, many of which are only recently returning to Howe Sound following decades of environmental abuse;
  • Foreshore and recreational impacts in a significant tourist destination from the wake of the large LNG carriers that are proposed
  • The cumulative impacts of the Woodfibre facility in combination with other industrial projects proposed for the region
Residents have also been outraged about the way that government consultation has been carried out so far. The first major opportunity for public input took place over the Christmas holidays, from December 17 to January 6, while many were away from their computers and enjoying time with family – almost as if it was intended to slip past without anyone noticing. You can read comments submitted by those who were able to make the deadline here, which provides a good sample of community concerns.

Concerns about the Woodfibre proposal are part of a much wider conversation that needs to happen about the current push to hang BC’s economic future on LNG. How can we develop LNG at the pace envisioned and still meet our targets for combating climate change? If supplying gas to new LNG facilities leads to an increase in fracking – with its associated water contamination, air quality and health impacts – is that something British Columbians can live with? What about pollution of the air and marine environment around the terminals themselves?

This conversation has been going on for much longer in northern BC, where a dozen LNG proposals are on the table and residents are coming together to express their concerns. The time has come for communities on the south coast to educate ourselves, get organized, and start talking about whether we want new LNG developments in the Georgia Strait.

If you have thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them! Get in touch at

February 5, 2014

Down at the Dock: starting the new year off right

Clean Marine BC started off the new year spectacularly. I just knew it was going to be a great trip to the Lower Mainland when we were blessed by a huge pod of Pacific White-sided Dolphins on the ferry ride from Nanaimo...and things only got better from there. Not only did we have a wonderful time connecting with boating enthusiasts at the Vancouver International Boat Show, but we also achieved a huge milestone for our Clean Marine BC marina eco-rating program.

Michelle Young, CMBC Program Coordinator, with
Mike Turkington and Mike Loy (centre) of FCHA
Photo by Joel Baziuk
False Creek Harbour Authority was Clean Marine BC eco-rated at four out of five anchors when they first achieved their certification. The voluntary program for marinas, yacht clubs, and boat yards is all about continual improvement in environmental best practices, and we are happy to say that False Creek has taken that to heart. Upon re-certification, their Fisherman's Wharf became the first facility in BC to achieve the coveted top 5-anchor rating! We were so happy to honour their achievement at the recent Harbour Authority Association of BC Conference.

The Vancouver International Boat Show was another huge success this year, with so many boaters happy to take home their own copy of our Guide to Green Boating. Lots of folks stopped by to talk about the lack of vessel sewage pumpout facilities along our coast, alternatives to toxic bottom paints, and other green boating issues and tips.

Our mermaid Georgia and Michelle meeting Dawn Wells
Photo by Vivian Sorensen 
It was also nice to connect with our Clean Marine BC marinas in attendance at the boat show; certified marinas Shelter Island and the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club - Jericho, as well as a few of our enrolled marinas and some new ones interested in hopping on board.

Not only that, but Dawn Wells (Mary Ann of Gilligan's Island fame) was a sweetheart to meet, and she now knows a little bit about the great marine conservation work that we do here at Georgia Strait Alliance. Touring the restored SS Minnow was quite a treat, and it is a relief to know that the iconic vessel of my childhood did not suffer the fate of becoming a derelict vessel.

Needless to say, the new year has started with a splash. We've been having a great time "down at the dock" - we hope you and your marina will hop on board.