Banner Photo Credit and Description: Vancouver Fraser Port Authority; Centerm terminal (Vancouver) 

Human Processes

Understanding coastal human processes is integral for the long-term success of shore zone projects, since local dependence upon the shore zone directly impacts resource use and ecosystem integrity, which in turn determines the ability of shore zone habitats to successfully accommodate human development activities.

Coastal Development

Coastal development generates economic growth through increased industrial and recreational activities. As demographics react to economic fluctuations, shore zone use changes. Understanding coastal community dependence upon shore zone resources and ecosystem services directly impacts the long-term design and management policies associated with coastal development and habitat restoration projects. For example, it is in the best interest of communities that depend upon subsistence or commercial fishing to diminish the impact of development projects that compromise fish spawning and recruitment habitats. If these habitats are damaged through development and artificial rocky reefs are constructed to compensate for the damage, these communities should be consulted and involved in the reef design so that local fishing knowledge, practices, and regulation are incorporated into reef management.

Table 1. The following table outlines several shore zone development projects and their environmental and ecosystem consequences.

Coastal Development Quantified

Howe Sound, a fjord adjacent to Metro Vancouver, has undergone an 11.8 percent increase in population from 2011 to 2016. The majority of this population growth is concentrated in the District of Squamish, which experienced a 12 percent population increase from 2011 to 2016. Shore zone modification (the presence of seawalls, jetties, offshore breakwaters, bulkheads, riprap, revetments, and/or groins) increased from 9.25 percent of Howe Sound’s shoreline in 1996 to 12 percent in 2014. Land tenures covered 13.4 percent of the shore zone in 2016, and are projected to increase by 2.2 percent upon existing application approvals. Daily vehicle counts increased 39 percent from 1999 to 2015. Current and proposed coastal development projects in the region include multiple residential and commercial projects, including three proposals of more than 1000 dwelling units, and three industrial projects, i.e. Woodfibre LNG, Burnco Gravel Mine, and a waste to energy facility. The cumulative effects of these various development projects will need to be assessed in conjunction with the effects of population growth in order to maintain shore zone integrity and ecosystem function in Howe Sound. This type of assessment requires collaboration between the various levels of government that manage coastal development in Howe Sound, including municipalities, the Islands Trust, First Nations, provincial, and federal governments, as well as the adaption of an integrated management approach to shore zone development.

Demographic Changes

British Columbia’s population is projected to increase by 23 percent over the coming twenty years. This population growth may exceed the carrying capacity of coastal zones, depending on which regions experience an increase or decrease in human density. Carrying capacity is a guiding principle in ecological dynamics that determines the population sizes that environments can support before ecosystem function and services degrade. Demographic changes, in particular population growth, require appropriate management to maintain or enhance coastal life and habitat quality, complement natural processes, and adapt to the dynamic shore zone. 

Legislation, Policy, and Management

There is no single law that integrates shore zone management and protection in Canada. Instead, local government, provincial, First Nations, and federal laws govern various aspects of coastal and marine habitat protection. In addition, the shore zone may be federal (national parks, harbours, and port lands), provincial (foreshore lands and the seabed of inland seas), subject to First Nations title and rights, designated as Indian reserve lands, and/or affected by private property rights such as licenses and tenures.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) policy emphasizes “relocation, redesign and mitigation” to avoid harm to fish habitat, with compensation projects seen as a last resort. Under section 35(2) of the current Fisheries Act, development projects that cannot avoid harming fish may be able to obtain authorization from the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Authorized projects must demonstrate that all options to avoid and mitigate serious harm to fish have bene applied, and will be required to offset harm to fish with offsetting measures (compensation projects) that counterbalance the loss of fish habitat and fisheries productivity. Federal policy around habitat compensation historically (pre 2012 amendments) had a stated goal of no-net-loss (NNL) of habitat productivity between pre- and post-development levels. More recent policy guidance provides further discussion of offsetting, and requires that offsetting measures balance project impacts and provide additional benefits to the fisheries affected.

The 2012 Fisheries Act amendments are undergoing review by the federal government, after an observed decline in fish habitat conditions under previous versions of the Act. Ensuring the protection of fish habitat is the most effective method to promote the survival, fitness, and health of fish and aquatic communities. Accordingly, suggestions to modernize the Fisheries Act endorse ecosystem-based management, the precautionary principle, and increased transparency and communication of development authorizations. They also include replacing the concept of ‘serious harm to fish’ with the original prohibition of work that results in the harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction (HADD) of fish habitat.

Other federal legislation to consider when designing coastal projects or working in the marine environment include: the Species at Risk Act (SARA), Navigation Protection Act (NPA), Oceans Act, Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), Migratory Birds Convention Act, Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012, National Parks Act, Canada Wildlife Act, National Marine Conservation Areas Act, and Canada Shipping Act. Provincial laws that govern coastal areas include the Land Act, Land Title Act, Wildlife Act, Islands Trust Act, Park Act, Ecological Reserve Act, Fish Protection Act, Environmental Management Act, Water Sustainability Act, Wildlife Act, Heritage Conservation Act, Dike Maintenance Act, and Environmental Assessment Act. First Nations jurisdiction includes Indigenous laws affecting traditional territories, title and rights under section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, and treaty lands and rights. Municipal governments may affect control over coastal activities using powers under the Local Government Act (Fig. 3). There is no overarching process that integrates the application of law and policy among the different jurisdictional entities responsible for implementing and enforcing these laws.

Figure 3

Figure 3