Habitat is where we live and how we live. It is made up of the basic elements of the environment that allow all life to exist, and be sheltered and sustained. All species have developed their unique characteristics as an adaptation to their habitat.
Aquatic habitat primarily consists of water, rock, and sand/gravel/mud. Aquatic plants also provide significant habitat for many aquatic species, and some species rely on other species as their habitat. Water is obviously the most critical habitat for all aquatic life and those who depend on aquatic life for their livelihood.
Human activities in the shoreline and marine environments are intricately linked with water quality. Shoreline and marine water quality can be impacted by shore-based waste, vessel-born waste, or ocean dumping. Shellfish aquaculture and wild shellfish fisheries, for instance, are highly sensitive to poor water quality and can lose significant revenues as the result of water quality concerns or closures. Similarly, disease, heavy metals, and toxin accumulation in the aquatic food chain can pose health risks to humans and other species and threaten the commercial viability of different enterprises. Oil spills can also cause catastrophic damage to local ecosystems and economies. Finally, exotic species and diseases pose threats to both ecosystems and commercial enterprises.
BC's coastal waters are also in generally good condition, although localized pressures exist. Seventy percent of Canada's marine pollutants come from land sources. Some examples are municipal wastewater from coastal communities, industrial pollution from pulp and paper mills, drilling waste from oil and gas exploration, and oxygen-consuming waste from food processing plants. Damage also results from dams, which alter seasonal freshwater flows, thereby changing salinity and sedimentation patterns.
Water quality is similarly important on land. Rivers and freshwater lakes provide habitat for numerous aquatic species, including wild salmon, steelhead and trout, some of whom transport marine-based nutrients to the land base. Rivers and lakes also transport water, rocks, sand and nutrients to the foreshore and marine environment. Water quality, temperature, and flow (discharge) all have significant impacts on aquatic species and on commercial and cultural activities. Almost all human activities require freshwater for their viability, including drinking water and household use, recreation, agriculture, hydro power, manufacturing, and other industries.
In the WCVI area, forestry has by far the largest impact on rivers and freshwater systems. Urban development, agriculture, mining, power generation and other activities have a lesser impact but cumulatively result in significant use. The amount and diversity of uses impacting aquatic habitat, plants, and animals in the WCVI area increases annually.
Some species in the WCVI area are currently extinct, endangered, threatened or vulnerable as the result of impacts to their habitat. Despite government legislation and policies calling for habitat protection, integrated management plans, increased stewardship and strategic enhancement, government resources to support these activities are declining or non-existent.
Efforts at watershed habitat protection, restoration, enhancement, monitoring, mapping and inventory, and education are currently suffering from a severe lack of integrated planning and funding.Governments are looking for increased industry self funding and partnership arrangements, especially for enhancement activities. In some cases, private partnerships, industry-community partnerships, and foundation-government partnerships are beginning to emerge for projects with the possibility of generating revenue or becoming self-funding.
Communities and volunteers are less and less interested in investing time into projects and initiatives without some indication of longer term government commitment and without some staff support. First Nations and local communities are also continuing to push for a stronger link between access to harvesting opportunities and incentives for long-term stewardship.