Georgia, Strait of


GEORGIA, STRAIT OF (known as Georgia Strait), separates southern VANCOUVER ISLAND from the mainland coast. It extends 220 km from the SAN JUAN ISLANDS in the south to CAMPBELL RIVER in the north and is 20–40 km wide. The water has an average depth of 155 m and a maximum depth of 420 m south of TEXADA ISLAND. The east coast is indented by a series of long, steep-walled inlets (see FJORDS) formed by GLACIATION, the same force that gouged out the floor of the strait millions of years ago. About 200 GULF ISLANDS are scattered through the strait, many of them inhabited and almost all frequented by boaters. Water flows into and out of the strait via JUAN DE FUCA STRAIT in the south and JOHNSTONE STRAIT in the north; numerous RIVERS and streams also flow in, most notably the silt-laden water of the FRASER R, which washes a light brown stain deep into the blue-green waters at the southeastern edge of the strait.

Inhabited for thousands of years by aboriginal people, the strait was visited by the Spanish mariner José Maria NARVÁEZ in 1791, then more fully explored the following year by Capts Dionisio ALCALÁ-GALIANO, Cayetano VALDÉS and George VANCOUVER. It was Vancouver who named the waterway after the British king, George III. Subsequent British naval surveys in the mid-19th century completed mapping the strait and many place names date from these surveys. With the beginning of a SALMON CANNING industry at the mouth of the Fraser R in the 1870s, the strait was established as the most important commercial FISHING ground in BC.

More than 70% of BC's population lives around the shores of the Strait of Georgia. A great deal of industrial activity takes place here, including PULP AND/OR PAPER mills (at Campbell River, CROFTON, NANAIMO, POWELL RIVER, NEW WESTMINSTER and PORT MELLON), fish farms (see AQUACULTURE) and 6 deep-water ports (VANCOUVER/ROBERTS BANK, the Fraser R, Campbell River, Powell River, Nanaimo and SQUAMISH). The strait is also one of the province's main recreational areas. As a result of all this use, huge quantities of industrial and domestic waste have been emptied into the water and have seriously threatened fisheries and wildlife habitats.

The strait is the busiest overwintering spot for migrating waterfowl in Canada, with more than 130 species of waterbirds visiting the area. A wide variety of marine plant and animal species are found here, many of which have declined in number because of pollution and habitat destruction. Some types of fish—coho SALMON, LINGCOD and red snapper are notable examples—have nearly disappeared and it is not uncommon for shellfish harvesting to be interrupted by waterborne pollutants. Steps have been taken to reverse this trend, including cleanup and new technologies at pulp mills, which have significantly reduced the amount of chlorine-based (such as dioxins) and sulphur-based (which causes acid rain) emissions. There are many provincial terrestrial and MARINE PARKS and ECOLOGICAL RESERVES in the strait. In 1995 the provincial and federal governments began assembling land under the Pacific Marine Heritage Legacy agreement for an expanded network of protected areas and for a new national park, the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, which was established in 2003.