Project Healthy Harbour

Community education and engagement is a key component of the Healthy Harbour project, with the Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Centre positioned to engage thousands of residents and visitors each year.

Established in September 2019, Project Healthy Harbour is a four-year partnership between the Town of Gibsons and the Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Centre.

The project vision is “A healthy and vibrant harbour” and together, the organizations are actively working to:

  1. Advance the goals and objectives set out by Council for the Gibsons Harbour area; and
  2. Transform the Gibsons Harbour area into a world-class example of innovative, eco-asset management.

Laid out as a phased, multi-organizational, collaborative initiative, Project Healthy Harbour aims to understand, monitor, develop, conserve and restore the critical nearshore marine environment of the Town of Gibsons, and to do so in a way that balances the environmental, social and economic needs of the harbour.

See September 2019 Staff Report on Initiation of Project Healthy Harbour here.

  • Expand baseline monitoring areas
  • Pursue joint partnerships and grants for marine clean-ups and restoration
  • Restore eelgrass in fragmented areas
  • Build local capacity and resilience for restoration, monitoring and education
  • Provide policy recommendations that support the Town’s best management practices of the harbour
  • Seek funding for sustainable and eco-friendly infrastructure to effectively manage moorage in the recreational water lease
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of regulatory and restoration activities
  • Explore funding for the development of deeper harbour management projects, including mooring management, visitor education, eco-tourism and community engagement
Phase 1
Eelgrass provides food, shelter and protection from predators for many juvenile fish and shellfish of ecological, commercial and recreational importance.

Initiated in fall 2019, the first phase of Project Healthy Harbour focused on updating the 2013 Gibsons eelgrass survey in order to support ongoing eelgrass restoration work. Work included general site assessment, delineating the eelgrass beds, assessing biophysical conditions, quantifying plant density and characteristics, documenting mooring buoys and marine debris, and cataloging observed marine species.

The information gathered enabled the team to establish a baseline to support decision-making and evaluate future results, create educational videos, and quantify data to support grant applications and restoration work.

See Report “Marine Biophysical Survey: Eelgrass Biology Mapping & Marine Debris” November 2019 here.

View February 2020 Presentation to Council on Phase 1 results here.

Phase 2

Project objectives for Phase 2 are divided into three parts: Evidence Gathering, Policy Recommendation and Education & Monitoring. Details on the progress made against each goal are provided below.

Evidence Gathering

Work to complete biophysical surveys of eelgrass beds in the Armours Beach and Breakwater areas has been ongoing. Work is also underway to map any anthropogenic debris which is causing fragmentation of eelgrass beds.

Policy Recommendation

The NSMEC is working with the Town and SeaChange Marine Conservation Society to evaluate evidence to provide boundary areas for implementation of voluntary no-anchor zones.

As at September 2021, marker buoys for a voluntary “no anchor zone” have been developed, with 5 buoys proposed to mark a zone along Armours Beach. The marker buoys are expected to be installed in the first quarter of 2022.

Read the Eelgrass Protection Voluntary No-Anchor Zone fact sheet here.

Education and Monitoring

Goals for the ongoing “Education and Monitoring” component of the project include:

  • Establish long-term monitoring transect (habitat measurement line) at Armours Beach to monitor eelgrass health
  • Develop a Harbour User Guide aimed at visitors and residents
  • Create/expand Healthy Harbour Display at Marine Education Centre
  • Develop Canadian Association for Underwater Science (CAUS) diving program. As at October 2020, certification has been achieved and the NSMEC is investigating the funding and insurance required to train divers to help with citizen science.
  • Work with Gibsons Rotary Club to develop educational signage for Gibsons waterfront/Harbour area

Significant ocean clean-up efforts have also been undertaken.

In October 2020, SeaChange led a “subtidal debris removal” project in partnership with the Town, Gibsons Harbour, SCRD Landfill and BC Parks. Approximately 1.75 tonnes of debris was removed from Gibsons Harbour and Plumper Cove Marine Park.

In June 2021, the NSMEC team partnered with the Ocean Legacy Foundation to clean up marine debris from around the Sunshine Coast. Nearly 2 tonnes of debris was cleared from 26.5km of coastline, with nearly 75% of the debris repurposed or recycled.

In September 2021, additional marine work completed included eelgrass surveys; eelgrass transplant work in Gibsons Harbour (in collaboration with SeaChange); and subtidal debris removal in Plumper Cover (in collaboration with SeaChange). Read related Coast Reporter story here.

Next Steps

2021 Work Plan

  • October – consultation with Bowen Island staff re) voluntary no-anchor zones
  • November – host community consultation and storytelling event
  • December – Healthy Harbour update report to Town of Gibsons’ Council

2022 Work Plan

  • January – February – finalize voluntary mooring buoys placement
  • February – March – install voluntary no anchor buoys
Presentations to Council

View September 2020 Presentation to Council on current objectives and achievements here.

In December 15 2020, Graham Starsage presented a virtual report to Council on the Healthy Harbour Project. The report focused on information gained via an eelgrass bed assessment conducted earlier in the year, which found a vibrant and healthy eelgrass habitat in the east Armours Beach region, but more debris closer to the Gibsons Landing marine facility.

Additionally, Mr. Starsage presented several recommendations for continuing to protect and restore the eelgrass beds. These included:

  1. Support Town Planning staff
  2. Apply for funding
  3. Create harbour guide communications
  4. Implement conservation zones
  5. Continue restoration activities

Some ideas also included installing a series of conservation signage buoys, prohibiting motorized vessel use inside the conservation areas unless prior approval by the Town of Gibsons is obtained, and prohibiting permanent mooring and temporary anchoring in the conservation areas within the Town of Gibsons’ Recreational Water Lease.

View the 2020 Healthy Harbour Report here.

View the Healthy Harbour December 2020 Presentation here. 

On September 7, 2021, Jenny Wright, Curator of the NSMEC presented an update on the Healthy Harbour project to Council.

View 2021-09 HHP and eelgrass presentation here

Additional Resources

Read the Ocean Watch Howe Sound Edition 2020 – Executive Summary here.
Read the Ocean Watch Howe Sound Edition 2020 – Full Report here.