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Despite conservation efforts pollution lingers in Howe Sound: report

The good news is that whales, porpoises and dolphins have returned and eagle numbers have rebounded from a low point in the 1970s

The view of Howe Sound from the Stawamus Chief

Graeme McRanor

The view of Howe Sound from the Stawamus Chief

Howe Sound’s resurgence as a viable marine habitat after decades of pollution caused by the Britannia Mine and a pulp mill is a conservation success story.

But a report released today warns that the continued presence of pollutants, human activity and climate change continue to threaten sealife in the area. Heavy metals from the Britannia Mine, which was closed 20 years ago, “are still leaching into the water from unknown sources,” and some Dungeness crabs in the sound are still contaminated with chemicals from the pulp mill, according to an overview from the Vancouver Aquarium’s Coastal Ocean Research Institute.


Salmon and many other fish are at high risk in Howe Sound, according to the report. While pink salmon is doing well, all other salmon species have not regained their former numbers. Despite fishery closures, lingcod and rockfish numbers have not rebounded, and sea stars have been dying off in large numbers all along the West Coast; the cause is still unknown.

The report also calls for more efforts to restore eelgrass habitat in the sound. The underwater plants provide “a crucial part of our underwater ecosystem,” but are threatened by docks, boat moorings and coastal erosion.

The good news in the report is that cetaceans like whales, porpoises and dolphins have returned, eagle numbers have rebounded from a low point in the 1970s and the Squamish Estuary has been restored after decades of industrial use. But the report warns that most animal numbers are lower than before the sound was used for heavy industry, and more work needs to be done to restore and study the area.

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