Beautiful panoramic shot of Estuary and surrounding town in British Colombia

Enhancing Estuary Resilience in Coastal British Columbia

Lead institution: The Nature Trust of British Columbia

Estuaries and coastal wetlands comprise less than 3% of BC’s coastline, yet they support over 80% of BC’s coastal fish and wildlife. Many culturally and commercially important fish stocks, including Pacific salmon, herring, crabs, clams, oysters, and various forage fish species, are dependent on estuaries.

Climate change is expected to significantly impact estuary ecosystems through a number of mechanisms, including rising sea-levels, ocean acidification, temperature and salinity changes, and changes to freshwater and sediment inputs

The project includes development of meaningful and lasting partnerships between Coastal First Nations, Nature Trust British Columbia, and other project partners; monitoring and research to assess estuary resilience to sea-level rise at 15-20 sites on Vancouver Island, the central coast, and Haida Gwaii; implementation of several major ecological restoration projects utilizing data collected; increased knowledge and capacity of all partners to make informed management, conservation, restoration, and enhancement decisions; and showcasing the integration of science and cultural knowledge and heritage.

To date, this project is being implemented in 16 First Nations/Indigenous communities at 20 sites throughout the Coast of British Columbia. A guiding principle of this project is to also ensure that there is equitable funding for our First Nation partners to be involved in all stages of the project from planning, field work, data collection, and analysis, as well as the implementation of restoration and enhancement projects. This project has provided employment opportunities to each First Nation and Indigenous community partner. To date, the project has employed over 100 First Nation community members and has contracted or collaborated with many First Nation owned businesses.

This project will be expanding the monitoring network to an additional five sites in 2024/25. It also remains focused on the continued implementation of ecological restoration projects that increase marsh resilience to sea-level rise, restore fish and wildlife habitat, and revitalize Indigenous food systems.

The U.S. National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) developed the Marsh Resilience to Sea-Level Rise (MARS) tool—a method to evaluate and compare the resilience/vulnerability of estuaries to marsh drowning as sea-levels rise.

Our multi-year collaborative study extends the coverage of that research northwards and expands the data being collected to include water quality, salmonid abundance and carbon sequestration providing a Canadian context.

Fisherman in Salmon River (Xwésam) in the Sayward Valley, Vancouver
Fulmore Shoal Estuary
Small sandpiper bird drinks from estuary
Beautiful scenic shot of Estuary in British Colombia

Collaborations

The Estuary Resilience Project is built on strong partnerships between Coastal First Nations, non-governmental organizations, provincial and federal governments, and academic groups.

This project was led by The Nature Trust of British Columbia (NTBC), through the West Coast Conservation Land Management Program (WCCLMP)—a program that also includes

Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, Ducks Unlimited Canada, and the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation.

First Nation partners include Cowichan Tribes, Snuneymuxw First Nation, Snaw-naw-as First Nation, K’ómoks First Nation, Kwakiutl First Nation, Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Che:k’tles7et’h’ First Nations, Ahousaht First Nation, Tlowitsis First Nation, Da’naxda’xw-Awaetlala First Nation, Nuxalk First Nation, Heiltsuk First Nation, and Council of the Haida Nation. Since the inception of the five-year project, NTBC has developed partnerships with several additional First Nations to implement the MARS study within their traditional territories; however, those new sites are not discussed in this Highlight Report.

The Nature Trust also formed partnerships with and received support from the Hakai Institute for technical expertise and data management components of the project, Dr. Jonathan Moore’s Salmon Watersheds Lab at Simon Fraser University for investigations into estuary habitat use by juvenile salmonids, Dr. Jennifer Grenz at the University of British Columbia to provide leadership on incorporating Indigenous food system revitalization in restoration project planning and a collaborative Scientific Technical Advisory Committe.

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Partners