State of the Beach/State Reports/BC/Beach Description

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Beach Description

The west coast of British Columbia is characterized by deep inlets, mountainous topography, extensive coastal temperate rainforests, and an abundance of coastal islands, including Vancouver Island and the picturesque Queen Charlotte Islands (also known as the Haida Gwaii).

As the population continues to grow exponentially, people tend to concentrate themselves in and around coastal communities. This concentration has lead to the imperative need for more adequate coastal zone management strategies. As coastal resources and public access are diminished, conflicts begin to develop over what remains. As such, local land managers and government officials struggle to preserve these vital coastal ecosystems. The need for better stewardship demands a greater appreciation and understanding of our coasts to ensure environmental sustainability can be balanced with the social and economic needs of these coastal communities.

The loss or degradation of coastal habitat has been identified as the chief threat to the health of the shared marine waters between British Columbia and Washington. Historically, the primary causes of near shore habitat loss were diking and draining. Today, however, dredging, port and harbor development, log storage, and pollution inputs have detrimental impacts on the coastal ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest. Over the next century, climate change is expected to have a significant impact on the coasts of British Columbia. Increased flooding and erosion are expected to occur, as a result of more frequent and intense storms accompanied by larger, more powerful waves. Furthermore, as temperatures continue to rise causing the polar ice caps to melt, sea levels are expected to increase, which may act to accelerate coastal erosion and the associated impacts to both coastal ecosystems and infrastructure.

  • Fact 1: British Columbia has approximately 27,000 kilometers of coastline.
  • Fact 2: The province boasts more than 6500 coastal islands.
  • Fact 3: The current population is estimated to be 4,413,973 people.
  • Fact 4: Over 75% of the local population lives on or near the coast.

Coastal Management Policies/Legislation

Canada’s oceans and coasts are governed by a complex web of laws, regulations and policies, which are managed by various levels of government (federal, provincial, and municipal/regional). Furthermore, all coastal areas are subject to aboriginal claims based on traditional First Nations settlement patterns and land uses. This governance structure reinforces the need for a more unified vision and integrated approach to coastal and marine management that effectively considers the impact of individual sector activities on each other and on the oceans as a whole. This needs to be combined with the development of resource based decision-making and environmental assessment approaches that effectively recognize the long-term cumulative impacts of human actions on the marine environment. Canada has yet to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, established in 1982. However, the Government of Canada is supposedly committed to its eventual ratification. Unlike in the United States, which has a Coastal Zone Management Act to coordinate planning and to protect public interest in shorelines, Canada lacks a specific law devoted to near shore habitat management. There have been several recent articles which have advocated for such a law.

Federal Government

The federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over the nearshore and seabed along the outer coast, known as the “territorial sea”, which extends from the low water mark out to 12 nautical miles from the coast. Furthermore, the federal government is responsible for the management of those resources in the “exclusive economic zone”, extending 200 nautical miles out from the territorial sea boundary, and the mineral resources in the “continental shelf”. National harbors, national parks, and defense land are also owned by the federal government. The federal government is responsible for the protection of fish and aquatic habitat, marine mammals, and migratory bird habitat; the regulation of navigable waters; monitoring the disposal of materials to the deep ocean; and the designation of protected areas. National legislation includes the Oceans Act, Fisheries Act, Migratory Birds Convention Act, Canada Wildlife Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and Species at Risk Act.

Oceans Act, 1996
  • Aimed at optimizing the economic potential of Canada’s oceans while maintaining the sustainability of marine and coastal ecosystems.
  • Defines maritime territory in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, including the declaration of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ)
  • Authorizes the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to lead the development of a national oceans management strategy, guided by the principles of sustainable development, the precautionary approach, and integrated management
  • Clarifies and consolidates federal oceans management and responsibilities, as well as oceans responsibilities
  • Gave way to Canada’s Oceans Strategy, 2002

Canada’s Oceans Strategy, 2002
  • Policy statement for the management of estuarine coastal and marine ecosystems
  • Main objectives: to develop, support and promote activities to establish institutional governance mechanisms to enhance coordinated, collaborative oceans management across all levels of government; to implement a program of integrated management planning; and to promote local stewardship and public awareness
  • Replace the current, fragmented approach to oceans management with a collaborative, integrated approach;
  • Conserve and protect our oceans and coastal resources for future generations;
  • Ensure that Canada can continue to capitalize on the social, economic, and cultural benefits the oceans offer;
  • Expand working partnerships among oceans stakeholders; and,
  • Position Canada as a world leader in ocean management.

Provincial Government

The “inland sea” which includes the shorelands, seabed, and waters located between the mainland and Vancouver Island is under the jurisdiction of the provincial government. This “inland sea” includes the Strait of Georgia, Juan de Fuca Strait, Johnstone Strait, and Queen Charlotte Strait. Provincial ownership also extends to embayed areas, fjords, and inlets bounded by discrete headlands on the outer coast. Furthermore, the province holds the legal title to the foreshore of tidal waters (the area between the high and low water line). Although the foreshore area is not privately owned, the province may grant leases and licenses for special uses of the foreshore. In terms of coastal management, the primary role of the provincial government is to manage all aspects of coastal zone planning in order to address land and resource uses.

The provincial government is responsible for allocating licenses and regulating the use of Crown foreshore and aquatic lands; approving and regulating discharges to coastal waters; approving and regulating aquaculture operations; regulating mineral, oil and gas development; and designating protected areas. Provincial legislation includes the Land Act, Waste Management Act, Fisheries Act, Fish Protection Act, Wildlife Act, Petroleum and Natural Gas Act, Environmental Assessment Act, Local Government Act, Community Charter, Mines Act, Mineral Tenure Act, Park Act, and Ecological Reserve Act.

Municipal/Regional Government

Local governments are in charge of preparing and implementing regional and community plans; zoning lands for specific local uses; planning and providing local services and facilities as roads, parks, water, sewer and drainage. The municipal/regional governments both approve and regulate residential, recreational, commercial and industrial development along coastal shores. Local powers are generally derived from the Local Government Act and the Community Charter, as well as Regional Growth Strategies, Official Community Plans, Zoning and Subdivision rights.

First Nations and Non-governmental Organizations

First Nations play an important role in coastal planning and development. Local First Nations exercise aboriginal rights to traditional lands and waters along the coast. Over fifty First Nations have traditional ties and enjoy aboriginal rights with respect to land and resources along the coast. Many are represented in treaty negotiations with the province and the government of Canada. Representatives also conduct or collaborate with federal, provincial and local governments on coastal inventories and planning procedures. Finally, landowners and non-governmental organizations also play significant roles in coastal planning as they act as the “eyes and ears” for coastal stewardship.

A useful document is Coastal Shore Jurisdiction in British Columbia, prepared by Green Shores, a program of the Stewardship Centre for British Columbia.

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