Habitat loss and degradation

Virtually all of the shoreline in Victoria Harbour has been modified from its original form, with the exception of a few areas near Macaulay Point and West Bay. For example, James Bay originally consisted of rocky shorelines, intertidal mud flats and salt marsh, and a stream flowed from a wetland in Fairfield into the bay. Most of the bay was filled in (the Empress Hotel now stands on the original mud flats), the stream was placed in an underground culvert and a smooth vertical seawall was constructed in place of the rough, sloping rock. Similar changes were made all along the shorelines of the harbour.

RockBaywideMuch of this development occurred as part of the industrial and commercial development during Victoria’s early days, however these changes had major impacts on marine plant and animal life. The smooth, vertical seawalls provide less intertidal habitat, compared to natural sloping shorelines, and infilling has replaced soft sediments. Some of the industrial uses of the new infrastructure (e.g. shipbuilding, coal gasification) also caused pollution.

Some of the most degraded subtidal areas in Victoria Harbour are found in the following locations: the wharves adjacent to the Ogden Point breakwater; around Fisherman’s Wharf; the Inner Harbour between Laurel Point and the lower causeway; north of the Johnson St. Bridge; in Rock Bay and South Bay.

Not all man-made structures have had negative impacts, however. For example, the Ogden Point breakwater provides more subtidal attachment area and hiding places, compared to the flat sea bottom that previously existed there, and it has been designated as a marine sanctuary. Kelp, mussels, crabs, anemones, rockfish, greenling, ling cod, octopus, swimming scallops and abalone are a few of the organisms often seen by SCUBA divers in this popular dive area. Floating wharves also provide habitat and structural complexity for marine life to attach to and hide in, an important feature given the lack of natural shorelines in Victoria Harbour.


Unfortunately, historical industrial activities have left Esquimalt and Victoria Harbours ranking among the most contaminated marine areas in British Columbia. Although much of this contamination occurred in the past, current activities related to industry and general growth of the city are also a concern.

Studies conducted in 1996 and 1998 show that pollutants, including copper, mercury, lead, zinc and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), were entering Victoria Harbour through storm drains, mostly from industrial areas. The marine sediments adjacent to these storm drains also have high levels of contamination. Since these studies, efforts have been made by government, businesses and individuals to reduce this contamination, however the extent to which these efforts have been successful has not been recently assessed.

relmaxocean cementThe upper harbour (i.e. from the Selkirk Trestle to the Johnson Street Bridge, including Rock Bay) and the inner harbour (i.e. from the Johnson St. Bridge to Laurel Point) contain some of the most heavily contaminated sediments within Victoria Harbour, with high levels of cadmium, mercury, zinc and PAHs. These pollutants tend to break down slowly and some can accumulate and biomagnify in the tissues of animals living or feeding there.

Wood debris is a problem in many areas of Victoria Harbour, due to past log booming and saw milling operations. When wood debris accumulates on the sea bottom, it buries bottom-dwelling organisms and alters the chemistry of sediments. Chlorophenols, common constituents of wood preservatives, have also been found in the sediments in the Selkirk Water and upper harbour areas.

Boat traffic and marinas

workinghbrboatsinsunAs a busy port, the constant boat and seaplane traffic in the harbour inevitably has effects on marine life. Planes and boats disturb wildlife such as birds and seals. Pollutants from boats and marinas include: oil, diesel and gasoline; cleaners; wash water from boat cleaning (often containing paint or anti-foulants); sewage and bilge water; and chemicals that leach from the treated wood of docks and pilings. On the other hand, boaters can help to reduce the impacts of boating by adopting low impact boating practices.


  • Archipelago Marine Research Ltd. 1996. The Environmental Status of Upper Victoria Harbour and Selkirk Waters.
  • Humphrey, B. EnviroEd Consultants Ltd. 1998. Assessment of Metals and PAHs in Sediments From Stormwater Discharges and Streams 1998 Sampling Program.
  • UMA Engineering and Morrow Environmental Consultants, 2007. <a href="https://www.crd.bc.ca/docs/default-source/es-harbours-pdf/victoria-harbour/upper-victoria-harbour-ecological-and-human-health-risk-assessment.pdf?sfvrsn=2" title="Ecological and Human Health Risk Assessment of Transport Canada Administered &amp; Controlled Harbour Floor in Upper Victoria Harbour" sfref="[documents|OpenAccessDataProvider]6ac00652-e7e1-6533-860d-ff00001065ab">Ecological and Human Health Risk Assessment of Transport Canada Administered & Controlled Harbour Floor in Upper Victoria Harbour. Report prepared for Transport Canada Victoria & Esquimalt Harbours Environmental Program
  • Aquametrix Research Ltd., 2000. Sediment Sampling in Portage Inlet and Gorge Waters for Metal Determination, Report for CRD Harbour Environmental Action Program

Victoria Harbour Environment

Victoria Harbour Watersheds


Emergency Contacts

Emergency Management of BC 1.800.663.3456
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