A Coast Worth Protecting

Supporting and preserving BC’s coasts and marine parks

BC Tourism has branded itself as “Super, Natural BC” and advertises our province’s lands and coasts as pristine, untouched and wild. We boaters know there’s both truth and untruth to those assertions. We’ve visited bays and coves that appear untouched for hundreds, even thousands of years. We’ve marveled at how conifers of all types can hang onto the steepest of rocky slopes. We’ve landed our dinghies on beaches filled with marine life. We’ve been delighted by aquatic critters of all types as they swim, breach, attach to rocks and lope across meadows.

But we’ve also witnessed the push and pull of resource extraction, the controversies over fish farms, the clear cuts and erosion they’ve left behind. Decline in salmon, herring and other fish stocks due to overfishing and climate change are serious concerns. We’ve detected log jams that have trapped huge fishnets and copious debris made from hydrocarbons. While on the one hand, we learn about the possible extinction of the southern resident orcas, on the other we discover that once threatened humpback whale numbers have surged. It’s nature in flux.



Depending on whose statistics one reads, BC’s coastline measures about 36,000 kilometres, is home to 6,500 islands and encompasses more than 450,000 km2 of internal and offshore marine waters.

So, what is the true state of BC’s coastline and coastal waters? What government agencies and private groups are working to again make it pristine, or at least, sustainable? This article presents an overview of some of the programs working to lighten our human footprint, and to preserve or rejuvenate coastal waters, adjacent lands and marine life.



In 2011, the Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers launched the National Framework for Canada’s Network of Marine Protected Areas. Its goal is to guide a national, rather than a regional, approach to marine protected areas (MPAs). An MPA, the network states, is a “clearly defined geographical space [designed]… to achieve the long-term conservation of nature, associated ecosystem services and cultural values.” To accomplish that goal, the Framework works with Indigenous groups, non-profits and local stewardship organizations.

In 2016, the federal government launched another major initiative—the Oceans Protection Plan (OPP), with a commitment to spend $1.5 billion (the most funding for coastal protection ever) to safeguard 25 percent of our marine and coastal areas by 2025 and 30 percent by 2030 through the creation of more marine protected areas. Several terms describe MPAs on the BC Coast—they depend on the definitions the legislation used to establish them. These include MPAs established under the Oceans Act, national marine conservation areas, national parks, provincial parks, marine wildlife areas, ecological reserves, conservancies and First Nations designations.


OPP’s goals are wide ranging and include improved shipping safety by installing additional radar stations that monitor commercial vessels and creating new hydrographic charts for shipping lanes and ports, especially in the melting Arctic. Emphasis is also placed on safeguarding marine mammals, especially threatened whales and orcas, including the disentangling of whales in BC waters and monitoring their movements through aerial surveillance. Measuring underwater noise that may impact orca foraging, training for handling beached marine animals, enforcing sustainable fisheries and preserving habitats for marine bird species are some of the specific programs.


As PY has reported on in their documentary Abandoned Dreams, the removal and recycling of derelict boats has been another. Some sunken vessels have been assessed for possible leakage of toxic materials. Training sessions on local search and rescue methods for Indigenous and other groups are being held. Two new state-of-the-art weather buoys in the Strait of Georgia give boaters better info on upcoming storms.



The prevention of oil spills and their disastrous effects continue to be a concern. Besides laws requiring tankers to be double-hulled, having licenced marine pilots aboard, and travelling with up to three tethered tugs in regional waters, new weather modelling that can track oil spills and send out responders can diminish widespread pollution. Moreover, several universities have received funds for research on alternative methods in responding to oil spills.



The restoration of aquatic environments, called the Coastal Restoration Fund, is also part of OPP’s budget. This fund provides revenue for specific projects to improve coastal habitats’ well-being. In May 2021, PY reported on the restoration efforts of eelgrass, an aquatic plant that provides a safer environment for juvenile salmon, deters erosion and captures carbon. SeaChange has led the five-year program to restore eelgrass and estuarine habitat for salmon and other fish on Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, Howe Sound, Burrard Inlet and Sechelt. And the North Coast Skeena First Nations Stewardship Society is carrying out habitat restoration to help the expansion of sockeye, chinook and chum salmon in the Skeena River.


Although government funding for professional staff to complete these projects is essential, initiatives are often aided by local donors such as community organizations, land trusts, private companies and foundations. And we shouldn’t forget the numerous volunteers without whose time and talents many projects would be much less fruitful. As just one example, each summer, the non-profit Mitlenatch Island Stewardship Team supplies volunteers at Mitlenatch Island, a provincial nature park and the largest seabird colony in the Strait of Georgia. The wardens live on the island for a week, clear paths, educate visitors, monitor scientific studies and ensure no bird-disturbing dogs come ashore.

The volunteers of the Surfrider Foundation’s chapters (Vancouver, Victoria, Tofino and Ucluelet) hold monthly beach cleanups, collecting, sorting, recycling and properly disposing of debris. Sometimes, a local group decides to clean up nearby beach debris—Royal Victoria Yacht Club has recruited members and others several times to spend a day cleaning Cadboro Bay’s shores.


UVic’s Ocean Networks Canada has become world famous for its monitoring of Canada’s Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic coasts by continuously gathering data in real time for scientific research that helps communities, governments and industry make good decisions about our ocean’s future. Regionally, among other research, they monitor sea creatures in deep waters off Vancouver Island, test salinity, temperature and acidification on our shores.


During two pandemic summers, a special B.C. COVID-19 relief fund helped marine tourism companies collect vast amounts of debris from the Central Coast. In 2020, they amassed 127 tons of rubbish, mostly plastic and fishing gear; in 2021, 220 tons of hydrocarbon-based garbage was removed.


BC is home to more than 80 marine parks that make major contributions to boaters’ safe enjoyment of our coast and are dedicated to environmental stewardship. Three are federal parks that include large coastal areas. The most northern is Gwaii Haanas National Park and Haida Heritage Site, located in southern Haida Gwaii, an archipelago of 138 islands. The park is reachable only by boat and plane and its environment is close to the pristine conditions our tourism offices describe. Because of unpredictable weather, visiting there in your own boat takes planning. Moreover, for Indigenous cultural preservation, boaters must have a reservation to access the Park.

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Vancouver Island’s west coast encompasses Barkley Sound, Long Beach and the West Coast Trail. Long Beach and Cox Beach attract hundreds of surfers taking advantage of lofty winter and summer waves. Barkley Sound alone measures about 800 km2 and includes hundreds of uninhabited islands—it’s an enticing place for boaters, kayakers, fishers and hikers. I remember spending one night in a spot not marked as an anchorage. It was at the very edge of the Pacific, and waves crashed continuously on the island’s rocky shores. Without any ambient light the night sky blossomed above us after a brilliant sun expired below the horizon. We felt both happy and insignificant.

The Gulf Island National Reserve is made up of 15 islands bounded by Active Pass to the north and D’Arcy Island to the south. The reserve’s islands include Bedwell Harbour, Saturna, Tumbo, Cabbage, Russell and Portland islands. This area is well plied by visiting boats and offers a great variety of anchorages, marinas and fishing spots.


BC’s marine parks include such favourite boating destinations as Desolation Sound with its 60 kilometres of shoreline, the Broughton Archipelago Provincial Park, Smugglers Cove, as well as many other smaller places to anchor, tie up to a buoy or a dock. Parks range from Discovery Island just southeast of Victoria all the way to Kitson Island Marine Provincial Park at the mouth of the Skeena River.


Not all marine park creations are solely government funded. An important supporter of marine parks, whose contributions may not be well known, is the non-profit Marine Parks Forever Society (MPF). The organization raises funds for BC Marine Parks land acquisition and installs safety and environmentally friendly features at marine parks. Capital raised comes mostly from the Council of BC Yacht Clubs who donate annually on behalf of their members. In addition, special bequests, private memorials and cash or property donations all contribute to the coffers.

I spoke with George Creek, MPF’s president since 2011. “Like all board members, I’m a volunteer,” he told me. “The Society has no paid staff, no formal office or overhead expenses. The money we raise goes directly to marine park development and enhancements.” Creek lives near Nanaimo and overlooks Dodd Narrows’ south entrance; this view and his cruising for many years in a 35-foot trawler stimulated his enthusiasm for marine parks.

MPF, founded in 1990, has been successful in fundraising, lobbying and assisting BC Parks to buy land. When a property adjacent to the water becomes available for purchase, MPF helps BC Parks acquire and secure its recreational, historic and cultural value. Over the past three decades, MPF has contributed $2,317,683 to the establishment of 13 new marine parks. The largest was a $749,310 donation for the acquisition of Harmony Island, a popular anchorage. In recognition, BC Parks has awarded MPF the “BC Community Partner of the Year.”

MPF also made three donations that expanded the Octopus Islands Marine Park. I remember walking through the portage area between Waiatt Bay and Small Inlet Marine Provincial Park (on Quadra Island) just after MPF’s donation had facilitated its addition to the Octopus Islands Marine Park. Giant stumps still expose early 20th century logging, their deep cuts showing where fellers placed their planks. I was most pleased that the replacement 80-year-old trees wouldn’t be harvested and have a chance to become an old growth forest of their own.

Besides supporting new or expanded marine parks, over the last decade, MPF has made boaters safer and more environmentally friendly by adding 186 pin-and-chain stern ties at various locations. The Stern Tie Program installs rock pins, long-link chain and ID plates in Desolation Sound and nearby marine parks. Instead of boaters scrambling up a rocky, mossy or unstable surface to stern tie their vessel to a tree, a pin fastened into the rock supports a chain that someone in a dinghy can easily reach. With a stern line threaded through and a bow anchor out, the boat stays in place and significantly reduces the impact of the anchor chain scouring bottom habitats, including eelgrass beds and other aquatic plants and animals. In addition, stern ties allow boats to anchor in tight spots where a full swing isn’t possible.

Don and Joan Thain, owners of SV Windshear, report that a Copeland Islands Marine Park stern tie spot allows visits to “an impossibly tight and shallow anchorage which will fit two rafted boats at most. It offers wonderful sunsets, refreshing swims and copious shellfish. Truly a delight that I am loathe to share!”


MPF is digitizing the BC Marine Parks Guide and will make it available free-of-charge on its website by this summer. Creek also noted that MPF is continually on the lookout for other potential marine parks that support long-term environmental and recreational values. When you’re cruising this summer, look for MPF-installed visible yellow plaques that point to stern-tie locations. You and your boat will be safer while you’ll also spare the life of marine flora and fauna.