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Wood debris covers approximately 16% of Esquimalt Harbour seabed. Masses of wood waste radically alter the chemical and physical nature of the seabed, smothering bottom-dwelling organisms and creating sulfide-rich anoxic conditions during the decomposition of the debris.

Sediment contamination from past industrial activity in the harbour.

Ship building and repair: Over the years there have been three shipyards/dry docks, and one marine railway in the harbour. Wastes from these operations typically included solvents, fuel, lubricants, degreasers, materials stripped from ships during refit, paints, anti-fouling compounds and contaminants from sandblasting operations. Grit typically used for sandblasting contains copper, arsenic, nickel, zinc and chromium, and there is evidence that this grit was used as shoreline fill material in areas around the harbour. In the past, paints stripped from ship hulls and navigational aids often contained lead, copper, mercury, zinc and organotins (e.g. tributyltin); in the past these wastes were washed directly into the harbour. Today, DND and PWGSC have employed new technologies to minimize and eliminate pollution to the harbours.Esquimalt Harbour Map of Shoreline Activities 166x268 tall

Sawmill operations: PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) from electrical transformers and capacitors, PCP (pentachlorophenol) originally used in treatment of lumber.

Fuel storage and handling: contaminants associated with coal storage, transfer and combustion, oil, diesel, fuel spillage

Dredging: several dredging operations have taken place in Esquimalt Harbour, each presenting the problem of proper disposition of contaminated dredged material.

Wharves, docks and jetties: creosoted timbers were used extensively in shoreline construction.

Shellfish closures: Harvest of bivalves (clams, cockles, mussels, etc.) is closed throughout Esquimalt Harbour due to fecal coliform contamination. Concerns about the potential impact of contaminated marine sediments on human health prompted the Department of National Defence to commission a Human Health Risk Assessment in 2008 to assess the possible risk of consuming seafood harvested from Esquimalt Harbour. From that study, recommended weekly consumption levels of various seafoods (crab, sea urchin, rockfish) harvested from the harbour have been posted. For the Esquimalt and Songhees people who continue to live on the harbour, this has restricted their access to important traditional local food sources.

Degradation of habitats such as eelgrass, kelp beds and intertidal mudflats are a concern. These ecosystems are critical for many marine species and life stages. Several areas in the harbour, e.g. Lang Cove and Constance Cove, have been infilled, eliminating important marsh and intertidal mudflat habitats.


  1. Bright, D.A. and K.J. Reimer, 1993. An Environmental Study of Esquimalt Harbour: Part I. Historical Inputs, Marine Sediment Contamination, and Biological Uptake. Report for Director General Environment, Dept. of National Defence, prepared by Environmental Sciences Group, Royal Roads Military College.
  2. Hemmera Envirochem Inc. Aug. 2002. Esquimalt Harbour Environmental Baseline Study Vol. 1 Report and Appendices A – J. Report prepared for Transport Canada, Vancouver, BC

Esquimalt Harbour Environment

Esquimalt Harbour Watersheds


Emergency Contacts

Emergency Management of BC 1.800.663.3456
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