State of the Beach/State Reports/BC/Beach Ecology

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To the casual observer, beaches may simply appear as barren stretches of sand - beautiful, but largely devoid of life or ecological processes. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Sandy beaches not only provide habitat for numerous species of plants and animals, they also serve as breeding grounds for many species that are not residential to the beach. Additionally, beaches function as areas of high primary production. Seaweeds and other kinds of algae flourish in shallow, coastal waters, and beaches serve as repositories for these important inputs to the food chain. In this way, beaches support a rich web of life including worms, bivalves, and crustaceans. This community of species attracts predators such as seabirds, which depend on sandy beaches for their foraging activities. In short, sandy beaches are diverse and productive systems that serve as a critical link between marine and terrestrial environments.

Erosion of the beach, whether it is “natural” erosion or erosion exacerbated by interruptions to historical sand supply, can negatively impact beach ecology by removing habitat. Other threats to ecological systems at the beach include beach grooming and other beach maintenance activities. Even our attempts at beach restoration may disrupt the ecological health of the beach. Imported sand may smother natural habitat. The grain size and color of imported sand may influence the reproductive habits of species that utilize sandy beaches for these functions.

In the interest of promoting better monitoring of sandy beach systems, the Surfrider Foundation would like to see the implementation of a standardized methodology for assessing ecological health. We believe that in combination, the identified metrics such as those described below can function to provide a revealing picture of the status of beach systems. We believe that a standardized and systematic procedure for assessing ecological health is essential to meeting the goals of ecosystem-based management. And, we believe that the adoption of such a procedure will function to better inform decision makers, and help bridge the gap that continues to exist between science and policy. The Surfrider Foundation proposes that four different metrics be used to complete ecological health assessments of sandy beaches. These metrics include

  1. quality of habitat,
  2. status of ‘indicator’ species,
  3. maintenance of species richness, and
  4. management practices.

It is envisioned that beach systems would receive a grade (i.e., A through F), which describes the beach’s performance against each of these metrics. In instances where information is unavailable, beaches would be assigned an incomplete for that metric. Based on the beach’s overall performance against the four metrics, an “ecological health” score would be identified.


British Columbia is the most biologically diverse of the ten provinces and three territories in Canada. The province is endowed with a rich variety of habitats and associated native species of both flora and fauna. An estimated 2,850 vascular plants, 1,138 vertebrates and between 50,000-70,000 invertebrates including over 35,000 insect species call the province of British Columbia home. Coastal habitats in British Columbia are no exception as they support a great variety of marine plants, invertebrates, fish, migratory birds and marine mammals.

Federal/Provincial Legislation

Under the federal Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) program, the province of British Columbia is currently developing a Land and Coastal Resource Management Plan (LCRMP). The LCRMP is focused on guiding the future management and use of natural and cultural resources in the Central Coast of the province. The plan is being developed through the collaborative effort of the federal and provincial government, First Nations, local residents, industry and special interest groups. Representatives from each stakeholder are working together to find ways of balancing future development with environmental and social needs. Furthermore, representatives at the planning table requested early on in the LCRMP process that planning for terrestrial and marine/coastal resources be integrated.

Species at Risk

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is a board of experts that determine which wildlife species are most at risk in Canada. COSEWIC was established in 1977 to assess both flora and fauna species at risk. In June 2003, the Species at Risk Act (SARA) was developed to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct and to secure the necessary actions for their recovery. This legislation ensures species are assessed under a scientific process and requires the development of recovery action plans for species at risk. SARA applies to all federal lands in Canada, all wildlife species listed as being at risk and their associated habitat. COSEWIC has been established as an advisory body for SARA to aid the federal government in developing the legal list of species at risk. At the provincial level, the British Columbia Conservation Data Centre (CDC) systematically collects and disseminates information on plants, animals and ecosystems at risk in British Columbia. Information is compiled and maintained in a computer database that provides a centralized and scientific source of information on the status, locations, and level of protection for these organisms. However, within CDC there is a limited amount of information on marine species, partially due to the fact that there have been few systematic surveys of British Columbia’s coastal/marine flora and fauna species. CDC is part of the Environmental Stewardship Division of the British Columbia Ministry of Environment. For more information, see COSEWIC, SARA and the British Columbia Conservation Data Centre.


Government Programs

Several government-funded marine resource classification and mapping systems exist in British Columbia. The Coastal Resource Information Management System (CRIMS) is administered by the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management. This system is designed to streamline the collection and dissemination of marine habitat and fishery resource information for coastal British Columbia. The British Columbia Coastal Resource Information System is an internet-based interactive map used for coastal and marine data.

The Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management also administers the provincial Biophysical ShoreZone Mapping System. The ShoreZone system identifies marine sensitive areas and shore zone mapping standards. This system was developed in 1979 as part of a coastal shoreline inventory program. A systematic methodology for mapping the biophysical character of the shore zone is used, which consists of both physical and biological components. The information provided by the ShoreZone system supports a number of coastal initiatives related to conservation, including Marine Protected Areas, land use planning, research, species and ecosystem monitoring and oil spill response tactics. Information on the ShoreZone Mapping System is available from the website for Coastal and Ocean Resources Inc.

Finally, Sensitive Ecosystems Inventories is a joint venture between Environment Canada and the provincial ministries of Sustainable Resource Management and Water, and Land and Air Protection. This system identifies and maps rare as well as ecologically fragile terrestrial ecosystems in regions of the province subject to heavy population growth and development. The primary goal of this system is to encourage land use decisions that support the survival of these sensitive ecosystems. Also see Ecoregions of British Columbia.

Community-based Programs

The Shorekeeper program was developed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to monitor the intertidal zone along British Columbia’s coast. The program uses local community volunteers to collect data on flora and fauna species in the intertidal zone. Shorekeepers provides the training and manages the data on behalf of the local communities. Surveys are conducted annually, with the longest running survey sites now in their tenth year. The aim of the Shorekeepers program is to engage local communities in coastal stewardship and long-term monitoring of the intertidal zone. There also exists a similar program developed by the Georgia Strait Alliance to focus on the 220 kilometer inland sea, under the name of Straitkeepers.

The Community Mapping Network comprises organizations that collect and map natural resource information. The network consists of representatives from provincial and federal agencies, local governments, provincial environmental organizations, and community groups. Information is mapped on fish and wildlife distributions, streams and wetlands, rare and endangered species, and possible restoration sites. The purpose of the program is to provide inventories and maps for community planning, storm water management, emergency response, habitat restoration and enhancement, watershed planning, coastal planning, development referrals, impact assessment, research, education, and awareness.

This 17-minute documentary explores the ecosystems of the intertidal zone in British Columbia.

Other Coastal Ecosystems

Marine Protected Areas

The National Marine Conservation Areas Strategy was established by the federal government to aid in establishing a network of Marine Protected Areas along the coasts of Canada. A Marine Protected Areas Strategy for Canada’s Pacific Coast has been developed by both the federal and provincial government. This strategy is a shared responsibility of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Environment Canada and the Parks Canada Agency. The strategy seeks to ensure collaboration between these three federal departments and agencies. Although a National Marine Conservation Areas Strategy has been developed, Canada is still lacking in the establishment of Marine Protected Areas. According to the 2009 Marine Protected Areas Progress Report Card developed by the Living Oceans Society, David Suzuki Foundation and the Sierra Club of British Columbia, Canada received a failing grade. The report looked at four areas of progress: Mathematics, Law, Economics and Geography. Of the three countries graded, Canada, Australia, and the United States, Canada received the lowest grade (F). The progress report card was developed to assess Canada’s performance in meeting its national and international commitments to establish a global network of Marine Protected Areas by 2012. Currently, however, only 26,000 square kilometers (less than 0.5%) of Canada’s marine environment has been protected. Along the Pacific coast, an area totaling 6,503 square kilometers in nine different sites has been set aside in Marine Protected Areas.

British Columbia has several provincial and municipal Marine Protected Areas in addition to federal Marine Protected Areas. Living Oceans Society has compiled all of British Columbia's Marine Protected Areas onto one map.

State of the Beach Report: British Columbia
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