The Greater Vancouver area is home to over 2 million people and one of the most densely populated urban areas in Canada. And a large portion of those people crosses the brown, muddy, stinking stretch of the Fraser River every day.
But the Fraser and its estuary support an abundance of wildlife including dwindling populations of killer whales, western sandpipers, and salmon. Known as a migratory bird superhighway, the Fraser Delta is one of the most important ecosystems on Canada’s west coast. It is “the main artery that feeds biodiversity to the coast of B.C.” and supports a salmon industry that generates as much as $300 million in revenue annually.
Yet, with over 80% of its biodiversity lost due to corporate development, the Fraser faces complete devastation in just 25 years. Although the Fraser River isn’t much to look at, the benefits it brings to Canada’s wildlife make it a landscape worth saving.
Here are five common misconceptions about the Fraser River estuary:
1. It’s muddy and brown which means I can’t snorkel in it
The Fraser is muddy and brown, but it might not be meant for snorkelling. The brown and milky colour comes from silt clay and other sediments that carry nutrients to help grow phytoplankton, a microscopic marine algae. Through photosynthesis, phytoplankton uses sunlight, nutrients, carbon dioxide and water to produce oxygen and nutrients for other organisms. These microalgae are actually responsible for producing 50% of the world’s oxygen!
Home to over 100 species at risk of extinction, the Fraser deserves a chance to be saved.
2. It’s too polluted
This one is fair and honest, but the Fraser wasn’t always polluted. Agricultural run-off and increased industrial development have continued to pollute many waterways, including the Fraser River and estuary. Despite this, the Fraser remains a migratory bird superhighway, an essential stopover for North American birds which populations have declined from 40% to 50% since 1970.
A strong action plan focused on species preservation and economic development could still help turn the Fraser into an ecological jewel enjoyed by both humans and wildlife alike.
3. I haven’t found gold in it yet
Beginning in 1858, the Fraser Goldrush came to an end in the mid-1860s. Although the most renowned pockets of gold are now depleted, the river continues to produce gold today, in small quantities obtained through gold panning.
You might not find an abundance of gold nuggets in the Fraser, but an abundance of wildlife is gold enough for us. The Fraser is a valuable ecosystem and is home to thousands of species including the White Sturgeon, the largest freshwater fish in North America. All of these species create colourful biodiversity and are pretty much a pot of gold!
4. There are scary huge fish
This may be true but fish populations in the Fraser estuary are declining rapidly. In fact, 2020 saw the lowest sockeye salmon return to the area on record. Once known as the greatest salmon-producing river on Earth, populations are no longer considered high enough to support a fishery.
These changes impact not only humans but also the species that rely on fish populations to thrive, including the already endangered southern resident killer whales in the area. Without a healthy waterway, many more species will become threatened.
5. It blocks and disturbs my commute
The Fraser River and its estuary are a global biodiversity hotspot. As nature lovers, we believe the incredible biodiversity of the Fraser and the importance of its location to our ecosystem overweighs minor inconveniences like an unsightly or longer commute. The complete devastation of the Fraser will change nature forever, not just for Canada but the planet as well.
The Fraser estuary supports the commutes of:
- Up to 1.4 million birds visiting the site during peak migration times
- More than 2 million juvenile salmon before beginning their ocean migration
- Endangered species like the Southern Resident Killer Whales
We cannot afford the complete devastation of yet another natural landscape, especially one of such significance for North American wildlife.
Rich with biodiversity, the Fraser River and its estuary supports an incredibly diverse ecosystem comprised of over 600 species—102 of which are at risk of extinction. The destruction of the estuary has accelerated in the past decade. As we look towards the next 25 years, we must put a stop to inappropriately promoted mega projects without valid business cases, credible environmental assessments, or due process before it’s too late.
Send the letter now to demand action for the Fraser Delta. A priority action plan is necessary to ensure that these species have a better chance of survival.