A detail of the cover of State of the Salish Sea, a comprehensive report by the Western Washington University-based Salish Sea Institute on the state of the Salish Sea ecosystem. The photo is a detail of Squamish Sunset by Yuri Choufour

A detail of the cover of State of the Salish Sea, a comprehensive report by the Western Washington University-based Salish Sea Institute on the state of the Salish Sea ecosystem. The photo is a detail of Squamish Sunset by Yuri Choufour

Climate change, urbanization and population growth threaten the Salish Sea: report

Call for complex, multi-faceted approach to respond to current and emerging pressure on bioregion

The Salish Sea is in sore need of a holistic, multi-jurisdictional and multi-disciplinary response to current and emerging environmental threats, according to a new report by the Salish Sea Institute.

“The Salish Sea is compromised by the cumulative impacts of global climate change, regional urbanization and a growing population and intensive human use and abuse across the ecosystem over the last two centuries,” says the authors of “State of the Salish Sea” published by Western Washington University’s Salish Sea Institute in Bellingham, Wa.

The Salish Sea stretches from the Pacific Ocean along the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Strait of Georgia and Puget Sound and is fed by a network of rivers and contributing watersheds reaching up thousands of metres to prominent peaks in the Coast, Cascade, Olympic and Vancouver Island ranges. The term Salish Sea has risen to more prominent use in recent years and is officially recognized by geographic naming boards in Washington State and British Columbia as well as the U.S. and Canadian federal governments.

The Campbell River area marks the northwestern edge of the Salish Sea bioregion.

“It is a biologically-diverse inland international sea that is surrounded by mountainous watersheds of spectacular beauty,” the report says.

Indigenous peoples have lived along the shores of the sea since time immemorial and today the region is home to almost nine million people and growing.

In the report, more than 20 authors and contributors illustrate how the ecosystem is under relentless pressure from an accelerating convergence of global and local environmental stressors and the cumulative impacts of 150 years of development and alteration of our watersheds and seascape.

“Our expanding human footprint brings with it urbanization and ensuing impacts on the seascape as ports become busier, underwater habitats become noisier, natural shorelines give way to hardened infrastructure and watersheds are converted from native forests to housing developments, industrial parks and other impervious surfaces,” the report’s executive summary says. “At the same time, global climate change is producing profound impacts on the Salish Sea as sea level rise threatens low lying areas and as ocean acidification and other changes threaten the intricacies of marine life.”

RELATED: Quiet Salish Sea gives scientists chance to study endangered killer whales

Over time, government agencies and others around the Salish Sea have implemented numerous management programs, policies and regulations to protect the ecosystem, the report says. But ecosystem decline has outpaced restoration and protection.

Managing the state of the sea is complicated by layers of laws, treaties, regulations and jurisdictions but the cost of continuing as business as usual is high – “staggering” – the report says.

“It is unlikely that we will fully reverse the legacies or urbanization and industrial impacts to the Salish Sea but it is possible to improve conditions from what they are today,” the report says.

It will take multi-faceted and collaborative approaches to regenerate the Salish Sea that will require sufficient political will, public support and systemic changes.

It’s a big task, the report indicates.

“Fundamental alteration of human-environment relationships, coupled with new and ambitious goals, are needed to change the arc of anthropogenic impacts,” the report says.

RELATED: Denman Island author explores the past and future of the Salish Sea


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The Salish Sea bioregion of British Columbia and Washington. Map from State of the Salish Sea report.

The Salish Sea bioregion of British Columbia and Washington. Map from State of the Salish Sea report.

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