Land and Sea Together
If you set out to explore the Great Bear Rainforest, kayak and paddles would get you farther than walking stick and hiking boots. Through the maze of fiords and inlets, the ocean penetrates deeply into the heart of the Great Bear, one of the largest intact areas of temperate rainforest on Earth. Emerald groves of western hemlock and giant red cedar shade inlets and estuaries teeming with salmon. In turn, nutrients from salmon—spread around by eagles and bears—build up the forest to the point where its biological productivity exceeds the productivity of tropical rainforests by 40 per cent.
In a series of studies, University of Victoria biologist Tom Reichen. Reichen and his colleagues found that up to half the nitrogen in some trees comes from the sea. In one stream the researchers studied in the southern Haida Gwaii, eight black bears each hauled about 1,600 kilograms of salmon into the forest.
Other wildlife also straddle the land/sea divide. For example, wolves in the Great Bear Rainforest swim 10 kilometers out to the open ocean and catch seals on their haul-out rocks.
So what happens when we protect the forests but allow the ocean to be overfished, polluted and exposed to the threat of tanker traffic?
One-third of the Great Bear Rainforest is now off limits to logging, making it the most protected forest region in British Columbia. But even in this protected habitat, bears can starve if thedon't come back in sufficient numbers, as happens increasingly often. Like salmon, oil-rich also make long journeys from the rivers to the ocean, sustaining many connections through the food chain.
Oolichan are important food for salmon, seals and halibut, as well as bears, eagles and many other forest-dwelling birds and mammals. However, since 2000, this key staple of First Nations diet hasin Kitlope, Bella Coola and other Great Bear rivers.
Clearly, the missing piece is protection in the ocean. To maintain the health of the Great Bear Rainforest, the adjacent ocean needs to benefit from a similar level of protection from commercial fishing and industrial activity.
To be effective, a marine use planning process must actively engage the people who live, work and play on the North Coast. It needs to involve all three levels of government (federal, provincial and First Nations) and bring the best available science to the table to inform decisions about the future of this magnificent region. In particular, a network of Marine Protected Areas is urgently needed to improve ocean health generally and the productivity of fisheries in particular. These are key strategies in maintaining ecosystem resilience in the face of oncoming climate effects.