Healthy Harbour Project - Town of Gibsons

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.
Project Background

Established in September 2019, the Healthy Harbour Project (HHP) 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.

The HHP focuses on three areas:

  1. Data gathering;
  2. Policy recommendations; and
  3. Community education.

Laid out as a phased, multi-organizational, collaborative initiative, the Healthy Harbour Project 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.

  • 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
Current Project Status
Eelgrass provides food, shelter and protection from predators for many juvenile fish and shellfish of ecological, commercial and recreational importance.

On February 1, 2022, Jenny Wright of the Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Centre (NSMEC) presented a report to Council on the HHP’s 2021 work objectives and recommendations. Read the report here. Read Appendix A to the Report “Biophysical and Eelgrass Assessment” here.

Eelgrass Conservation

A key component of the Healthy Harbour Project has been the focused study of local eelgrass beds, which rival tropical rainforests and the world’s richest farmlands in terms of ecological and economic value. Read more here.

To date, several mapping dives have been completed between Armours Beach and the Gibsons Landing marine facility, in order to:

  • Assess, identify and map eelgrass beds along Gibsons’ shoreline;
  • Record the prevalence and general location of marine debris;
  • Investigate the impacts of moored vessels and floats; and
  • Provide recommendations re: establishing eelgrass conservation zones and implementing voluntary no-anchor zones.

Moving forward, several actions have been recommended to conserve eelgrass habitat within the Town’s Recreational Water Lease. These include:

  1. Install a series of conservation signage buoys;
  2. Install conservation signage on the Gibsons breakwater;
  3. Limit activity inside conservation areas to non-motorized vessel use unless prior approval by the Town of Gibsons is obtained;
  4. Prohibit permanent mooring and temporary anchoring inside conservation areas that negatively impact eelgrass; and
  5. Identify and remove marine debris from in and around the eelgrass beds.

The NSMEC has been working actively with the Town and SeaChange Marine Conservation Society to provide boundary areas for implementation of voluntary no-anchor zones. Marker buoys for a voluntary “no anchor zone” have been developed (right), with the marker buoys expected to be installed in the first quarter of 2022.

Read the related 2022-02-10 Coast Reporter story “Voluntary no-anchor zone to be introduced” here.

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;
  • Create/expand Healthy Harbour Display at Marine Education Centre;
  • Develop a Harbour User Guide aimed at visitors and residents;
  • 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; and
  • Work with Gibsons Rotary Club to develop educational signage for Gibsons waterfront/Harbour area.

At the NSMEC, two habitats have been designed to share the story of the Gibsons Harbour and Town’s Natural Asset strategy. Interpreters use the displays to share several important educational messages, including: the importance of eelgrass meadows; the story of how natural assets can perform as well as, or better than, built infrastructure; the impacts of human activity within these sensitive ecosystems; and the implications of pollution.

The Harbour User Guide is under development, with many ideas for content being contemplated.

In January 2022, salmon eggs from the Chapman Creek hatchery will be incubated, hatched and reared at the aquarium as part of the “Stream to Sea Salmon in the Classroom Program”.

Ocean Clean-Up Efforts

Significant ocean clean-up efforts have also been undertaken since the initiation of the Healthy Harbour Project.

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.

Project History

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.

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

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

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

View the 2020 Healthy Harbour Report here.

View the Healthy Harbour December 2020 Presentation here.

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.