The Great Bear Sea: A Unique & Biodiverse Marine System

What Makes the Great Bear Sea So Unique?

The Great Bear Sea is a British Columbian, Canadian, and global treasure that is home to some of the world’s most productive temperate coastal waters, supporting abundant marine life and coastal communities.

A breaching orca near the waters of Vancouver Island
The Northern Shelf Bioregion is home to endangered whales, ancient corals, salmon, sea birds, and many other ecologically, culturally, and economically important species. Photo credit: Michael Turner on Dreamstime

Some of the important habitats and species that can be found in the Great Bear Sea include:

  • Ancient glass sponge reefs are an essential habitat for keystone species such as salmon, spot prawns, rockfish, and halibut
  • Eelgrass beds serve as a habitat for young cod, clams, snails, crabs, sea stars, flounder, and scallops
  • Kelp forests provide protection and feeding grounds for sea otters, sea urchins, rockfish, sea lions, invertebrates, and grey whales.

The Economic Importance of the Great Bear Sea

The Great Bear Sea holds significant economic importance for the region, province, and country as a whole. For centuries, it has provided crucial support to coastal communities and First Nations that have benefitted from its resource abundance. The cultivation of a sustainable relationship between the Great Bear Sea’s resources and economic activity will be crucial to ensuring the longevity of coastal communities.

Coastal communities depend on small-scale fisheries for sustaining local livelihoods, ensuring food security, maintaining ties to the sea, preserving cultural identity, and bolstering coastal economies. Photo credit: Chelsey Ellis

Here are some of the industries that contribute to the economic value of this area:

1. Fisheries: The Great Bear Sea is home to valuable fisheries, including salmon, herring, halibut, cod, and various shellfish. Indigenous Peoples have sustainably fished in this region from time immemorial. However, certain commercial fishing practices can have destructive impacts on the Great Bear Sea’s ecosystem, and management of these practices is key to ensuring that the area can continue to thrive as a resource provider for local fisheries.

2. Tourism: The natural beauty and rich biodiversity of the Great Bear Sea attract tourists from around the world. Activities such as wildlife viewing, whale watching, kayaking, and eco-tourism contribute significantly to the local economy. Visitors come to experience the wilderness, Indigenous cultural tours, and opportunities to spot wildlife like bears and killer whales.

3. Research and Education: The area’s unique marine ecosystems and rich biodiversity make it a valuable location for scientific research and education. Research institutions and universities conduct studies here, creating opportunities for research-related economic activities.

4. Conservation: The establishment of conservation initiatives, including Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and sustainable resource management practices, not only contributes to ecological health but also supports the creation of eco-friendly jobs through the training of Indigenous Guardians.

Coastal Guardians on patrol on BC waters.
The Coastal Guardian programs empowers Guardian Watchmen and stewardship techs from Gitga’at, Haida, Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk), Kitasoo, Xai’xais, Metlakatla, Nuxalk, and Wuikinuxv nations to continue a long tradition of caring for coastal environments. Credit: Coast Funds

It’s important to note that the economic importance of the Great Bear Sea is closely linked to its environmental health and sustainability. Many stakeholders in the region, including Indigenous communities, environmental organizations, and government bodies, work together to balance economic activities with conservation efforts to ensure the long-term well-being of this valuable marine ecosystem. Additionally, the information provided here is based on my last update in January 2022, and economic conditions in the region may have evolved since then.

Why Does the Great Bear Sea Need to be Protected?

The historical biodiversity and abundance of the Great Bear Sea has attracted industrial fishing, which has caused habitat destruction and a decline in species numbers and ecosystem health. For instance, First Nations’ access to sockeye and Chinook is down 82% and 66% respectively. Current industrial fishing practices are unsustainable and have put more than 30 species at risk, including salmon, herring, northern abalone, killer whales, blue whales, basking sharks, sei whales, yelloweye rockfish, and ancient glass sponge reefs.

Additionally, First Nations have lived on the Great Bear Coast for millennia and are connected to the land and waters they have stewarded and sustained for generations. The decline of the Great Bear Coast’s health negatively impacts the economic and cultural health of many First Nation coastal communities.

A map of the proposed MPA network for the Great Bear Sea
The proposed MPA network in BC will be managed by local Nations and communities instead of bureaucrats in Ottawa. Photo Credit: The MPA Network

A Marine Protected Area Network for the Great Bear Sea

Coastal First Nations (CFN) has joined the federal and British Columbian governments in working towards the Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area Network. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are designated areas of the ocean protected from industrial fishing, bottom trawling, and shipping. An MPA network is a collection of individual MPAs. A well-managed MPA network increases ecosystem health, productivity, and sustainability by protecting critical fish, marine life, and animal habitats. These actions are targeted towards the continued resource-richness of the Great Bear Sea. This resource-richness is key to the prosperity of the local communities and economies who have spent centuries cultivating a sustainable lifestyle in partnership with nature. Without the prosperity of these communities, BC’s coastal economy will suffer in the years to come.



The Great Bear Sea MPA Network

The benefits of the Great Bear Sea MPA Network are virtually endless, from protecting coastal habitats to supporting healthy ecosytems.

Bottom Trawling in The Great Bear Sea

What is Bottom Trawling?

Bottom trawling involves dragging massive nets across the ocean floor with no regard for the significant damage that is caused.