June 19, 2006

BC Coastal Environment studies summarize scientific information for decision-makers

Six reports on British Columbia's coastal environment provide decision-makers baseline scientific information about the state of the province's environment, from the Coast Mountains to Canada's 200-mile offshore limit. Released by the Ministry of Environment (MOE) on June 8, World Oceans Day, the six detailed technical reports cover: Population and Economic Activity; Industrial Contaminants; Climate Change; Fisheries; Biodiversity; and Ecosystem Protection.

The studies that comprise the BC Coastal Environment project were produced through interagency collaboration involving the BC MOE (acting as overall project manager), Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre and the University of Victoria geography department. Environment Canada was also a key contributor. All agencies contributed funding or made in-kind contributions to the project.

This interagency collaboration enabled the partners to pool their resources to achieve a more comprehensive result than would have been possible separately. More than 140 people from 30 agencies and organizations contributed data and technical expertise, in addition to providing peer review of the science in the reports.

Each of the technical papers outlines the relevant issues, provides a set of indicators and summarizes results. Each paper also includes a section describing what is currently being done to address the issues, along with suggestions about what individuals can do. Some of the key findings are outlined as follows.

Climate Change: This paper reports a warming trend in BC's climate over the past 50 years, with the average air temperature having risen in many areas and marine temperatures having increased at both the sea surface and at lower depths in inlets on the south coast. The relative sea level has risen in many areas along the coast, and greenhouse gas emissions in BC rose an average of 2.1% per year between 1990 and 2002. Winters have become drier in most areas of the province as well.

For BC, the changing climate is expected to alter freshwater and hydroelectricity supply, affect both marine and freshwater productivity, change ecosystems, and increase the risk of forest fires, pest outbreaks and damage from extreme weather events and flooding.

Industrial Contaminants: While numerous contaminants originating from human activities are detectable in BC's coastal environment, levels of substances such as PCB, dioxins and furans, mercury, DDE and other organochlorine pesticides have generally declined as a direct result of regulatory controls instituted from the 1970s through the 1990s. Except at contaminated sites, concentrations of these contaminants in air, water and the general environment are low. The paper notes that cleanup of coastal contaminated sites has been completed for half the sites listed in the BC Contaminated Sites Registry is in progress for another 46% of the sites. Additionally, more than 46% of the area of shellfish beds closed to harvesting by 1995 because of dioxin and furan contamination has been reopened.

New industrial contaminants are emerging as issues, however, such as PBDE, a new class of persistent contaminant. And despite controls, there are still continuous, low-level inputs of contaminants to the environment from local activities such as burning wood and waste, as well as from soils and sediments that continue to release substances associated with historic activities.

Ecosystem Protection: As of January 2006, BC (along with Alberta) had the largest proportion of land in Canada set aside as protected area-12.5%, compared to the 7.3% national average. Further protected area designations recently announced have brought BC's proportion to 13.8%. This study found that terrestrial ecosystems are better protected than marine ecosystems along the BC coast. A preliminary analysis indicates that less than 25% of the continental shelf remains undisturbed by human activity. Roads are the leading source of habitat disturbance, especially in the Georgia basin, and a critical issue for protected areas is maintaining connections to other undisturbed habitats.

A new Web site, www.env.gov.bc.ca/soe/bcce/, has been launched as a complement to the project. It provides both the full text of the reports and summaries of key information, plus the data sets underlying the graphs. Links to related information sites are included as well.

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