Features & Images » Feature Story

Irrepressible Howe Sound

An enigmatic fjord swirling with the after-effects of industrial activity and shining with remarkable comebacks of nature



Page 8 of 10

The scientists were gathering information on the different marine species hauled aboard and what they discovered came as a complete surprise.

The ensuing catch yielded adult herring, a species previously thought to migrate out of the sound once the fish reached the adult stage.

Older herring were caught opposite Bowen Island, as well as a high density of two-year-old herring in surface waters up by Squamish. Krill was also found in abundance, which is a fundamental food source for ocean inhabitants, Marliave noted.

The adult herring are the perfect size for white-sided dolphins to feed on, which may solve the mystery of why the dolphins have taken up residence in Howe Sound, he says.

Marliave questioned whether the increased numbers of herring could be partly attributed to a changing climate. In the past two years, the coast was hit with two La Niñas — an ocean-atmosphere phenomenon in which the Pacific Ocean's sea surface temperature is lower than average.

He says he believes we have experienced a climate regime shift and that further research on krill could provide answers.

However, recent government cutbacks have taken much scientific work off the agenda, "so nobody is looking at it."

New threats loom

An Alberta-based aggregate company, Burnco Rock Products Ltd, has plans to build a 77-hectare large scale gravel mining and crushing facility at McNab Creek, located on the west side of Howe Sound.

The proposed mine is expected to produce one to four million tonnes per annum of sand and gravel for export over a mine life of 20 years.

The project was first proposed by Burnco in 2009 but faced a series of setbacks when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans sent it back to the drawing board with some key unanswered questions. The company says it has addressed DFO's concerns about potential impact on nearby fish habitat — which supports Coho, Chum, Chinook, pink and steelhead salmon and cutthroat trout — but not everyone is convinced.

Buchanan attended a public meeting in West Vancouver held by Burnco a few months ago. It was the first time he saw the plans and says: "I couldn't believe it ... it was like someone came down with a huge shovel from one side of the valley to the other and completely removed McNab Estuary."

Obtaining permission from DFO, Buchanan ventured over to the proposed site and placed fish traps along the creek and estuary.

He was astonished by what he found.

"There was an incredible richness of life that ended up in the traps — every trap was overflowing with fish, cuddies and Coho," he said. "It's an extremely productive area and I can't see how they can go ahead with that operation ... it will devastate the area."