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Marine Ecosystem Management in Gwaii Haanas


Marine Management in Gwaii Haanas © Parks Canada

Ocean, land and living things all influence one another in marine ecosystems. Webs are woven as cool nutrient rich waters from the deep move upward to replenish the surface waters along the coast. Zooplankton form and forage fish like herring feed on these and thrive. Whales and seabirds depend on zooplankton and forage fish. Salmon also depend on the food webs supported by the nutrient rich cold waters in the North Pacific Ocean. Resident killer whales depend on the salmon, as do the forests, which are fertilized by fish carcasses left by bears and other animals.

The maritime world of Gwaii Haanas is rich and diverse. Under the waters of the Hecate Strait lie the contours of a former tundra-like plain, with meandering rivers, lakes and beach terraces - a landscape drowned when sea levels rose after the last ice age. Off the west coast of Gwaii Haanas, the Queen Charlotte Shelf drops away abruptly to about 2,500 metres. This is an area of many transitions - between ocean abyss, continental slope, shallow shelf, and the dramatically upthrust landmass of the islands. These “ecological edges” make for great biological richness.

This tapestry of marine habitats is now being cared for under the interim management plan for the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site (established in 2010). With this designation in place, Gwaii Haanas is the first area in the world formally managed from the mountain tops to the sea floor – nearly 5000 km2 of land and ocean.

A full integrated land and sea management plan will be completed by 2015.