UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Reconstructing the pre-contact shoreline of Burrard Inlet (British Columbia, Canada) to quantify cumulative intertidal and subtidal area change from 1792 to 2020 Taft, Spencer; Oldford, Greig; Lilley, Patrick L.; Oetterich, Sonya B.; Morin, Jesse; George, Micheal; George, Michelle; Christensen, Villy


Colonial development has severely altered landscapes throughout Canada, including in Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s (TWN) territory, centred on present-day Burrard Inlet, BC, where urban and industrial expansion has modified the inlet’s shoreline for well over a century. These shoreline changes have degraded the ecosystem and affect TWN in innumerable ways, but non-Indigenous communities have not considered the impacts of total shoreline change in detail, and generally accept shoreline changes that have occurred since European contact as the “baseline” condition of Burrard Inlet. In this study, we therefore used multiple lines of evidence to reconstruct the shoreline of Burrard Inlet as it existed prior to European contact in 1792 and quantified the spatial extent of intertidal and subtidal area change in the inlet from 1792 to 2020. The results demonstrate that, across Burrard Inlet, a total of 1,214 ha of intertidal and subtidal areas have been lost to development and change, including 55% (945 ha) of the inlet’s intertidal areas. The most severe shoreline alteration occurred in False Creek and the Inner Harbour, including loss and elimination of ecologically productive and culturally important intertidal habitats at False Creek Flats (>99% intertidal area lost), the Capilano River Estuary (80% intertidal area lost), and the Seymour-Lynn Estuary (56% intertidal area lost). This shoreline loss has fundamental consequences to Burrard Inlet’s ecosystem and TWN’s ability to exercise constitutionally-protected rights. Further, this work demonstrates that any potential future shoreline loss must consider historical shoreline change and cumulative effects in Burrard Inlet.

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