Feature image: Alicia Haque, Go Live Explore
The spectacular Howe Sound is an inlet off the Strait of Georgia. Banked by large mountains and dotted with tiny islands the Howe Sound is a paradise popular for sea kayaking, sailing, paddleboarding, fishing, and kiteboarding and, more recently, wildlife spotting.
Composed of a network of fjords, islands and surrounding mainland communities, this region hosts some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Fjord’s are typically found in Scandinavia, but we’re privileged to have the world’s most southerly fjord right here in BC.
According to seatosky.ba.ca a fjord is: “an ancient river valley that was widened, straightened and deepened by glacial ice over the millennia.”
Where is the Howe Sound?
The Howe Sound is in British Columbia, Canada, and is an area that runs from Lighthouse Park near Vancouver, up the eastern coastline of the fjord, past the northern border of Squamish and Paradise Valley, and back down the western coastline to Gibsons and the Sunshine Coast. From beginning to end, the Howe Sound extends for 42km from West Vancouver northwards to Squamish, within the traditional territory of the Coast Salish First Nations.
Brief history of the Howe Sound Squamish
The result of glaciers, earthquakes, volcanoes and mountain-building from a past geological era, the Howe Sound is of high ecological significance. However, the Howe Sound wasn’t always as rich and bio-diverse as it is today.
Between 1904 to 1974 Britannia Mine was one of the largest copper mines in the world and, at its peak, the township was home to over 60,000 people from 50 countries. As you can imagine, an operation of that size produced a lot of waste. As the mine grew acid rock drainage became a huge toxic problem that polluted the Howe Sound, decimating the marine wildlife.
In 1998 a recovery and rehabilitation plan was put in place. Thanks to a dedicated community and a colossal clean up effort by the mine now, almost 20 years on, marine wildlife has started to return to the fjord.
Marine wildlife of the Howe Sound
The coastal zone of BC is home to 78 per cent of all mammal species, 64 per cent of breeding birds and 67 per cent of freshwater fish. Despite this, provincial studies show that coastal bio-diversity is still decreasing, particularly around southerly populated and urban areas.
But there is good news! As the pollution is cleaned up from past industrial activity, the ecological “dead zones” are decreasing and we are starting to see the return of key indicator species return to the Howe Sound region. These species include humpback whale, orca, grey whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, spawning salmon and herring.
The Howe Sound’s socio-economic importance
The future of Howe Sound’s environment and economy are intricately connected, and only recently have people started to understand the economic benefits of a thriving natural environment. A study by the David Suzuki Foundation, titled “Sound Investment: Measuring The Return On Howe Sound’s Ecosystem Assets” revealed that the Howe Sound watersheds offer an estimated annual value of $800 million to $4.7 billion in ecosystem services.
Ecosystem services include, but are not limited to:
- Breathable air
- Drinkable water
- Nourishing food
- Minerals and raw materials
- A stable climate
- Protection from natural disasters
- Places to relax, recreate and reconnect with nature
One great example of the importance of the socio-economic role of the Howe Sound is its beaches:
Beaches are highly valuable for tourism and recreation, generating profit each year from their use; but they’re also invaluable for disturbance regulation. According to the Ecosystem Service Framework, disturbance regulation is the soil’s, regolith’s and vegetation’s capacity of to buffer the effects of wind, water and waves through water and energy storage capacity and surface resistance.
So, as each ecosystem – be it wetland, beach, forest etc. – is compromised the environment loses the capacity to protect us against natural disasters.
We depend upon vegetation to clean the air we breathe; we depend upon healthy soils to grow the food that nourishes us, and clean water to hydrate us and maintain healthy functioning of our bodies. As social beings, we depend upon minerals and raw materials to fuel our economies, and it is in nature that our culture finds its roots and sense of place. – Michelle Molnar, the David Suzuki Foundation
While the terms “natural capital” and “ecosystem services” are relatively new, according to Michelle Molnar (author of Sound Investment) the concepts are not. Below is a table that shows the estimated financial value of each ecosystem in the Howe Sound region. When the financial gain is balanced with the above ecosystem services, it’s hard to see why anyone would want to jeopardize the bountiful Howe Sound region for short-term economic gain, alone.
This rough valuation can be used in many ways. In addition to identifying conservation needs and drawing attention to the importance of ecosystem services and the natural capital, the results of this study can be used to help evaluate the trade-offs this region is facing with respect to industrial development decisions.
Understanding these values can set the stage for building an economy that maintains and cares for our world. – Michelzle Molnar, the David Suzuki Foundation
How ecotourism can help protect the Howe Sound
As we have seen above, the Howe Sound ecosystem has a financial value that can be measured with out the need for industrial development. And as travellers, we have the power to speak with our ecotourism dollars. By increasing ecotourism travel to the Howe Sound we may one day reach a point where the financial gain of conserving the natural environment outweighs any potential to destroy it; and in-turn we retain the ecological services it provides.
It is our job, now, to encourage more people to visit and experience the Howe Sound respectfully and consciously.
“Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints, and kill nothing but time.”
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