Marine Ethics

Sensitive Habitats

BC Parks is implementing a policy to encourage boaters to only anchor in waters that are greater than 10 metres in depth.

Along shorelines from the low tide level to about 10 metres depth (below chart datum) marine plants provide critical habitats for juvenile fish and shellfish. These habitat forming plants can be large kelps or seagrasses. Boating activities that can damage these habitats include anchoring in water less than 10 metres deep (measured from the low tide level) or motoring through kelpbeds or seagrass meadows at low tide.

Responsible boaters avoid damaging sensitive marine habitats by:
  • understanding nautical charts and tide predictions,
  • using nautical charts, navigation equipment and depth sounders to anchor in water deeper than 10 metres,
  • not motoring through areas of shallow water where marine plants are abundant, and
  • landing on beaches away from seagrass meadows and kelp beds or avoiding having to land at extreme low tides.


Trash is one of the most visible kinds of pollution in our aquatic environment. There is an amazing range of litter on our shorelines – plastics, discarded nets, styrofoam, cans, garbage bags, bottles, oils, detergents, sewage and other potentially harmful products carelessly discharged into the water. Fish, seabirds, shellfish and other forms of aquatic life require a balance of nutrients, oxygen and clean water to survive.

Here are some suggestions for preventing the kind of pollution that often ends up in the water:
  • Don’t dump garbage or discharge pollutants in our waters.
  • Dispose of trash in port or take it home.
  • Don’t pump your sewage overboard in anchorages, marinas or swimming areas.
  • Use bilge cloths or pillows to collect engine oil, fuel, transmission fluid and other pollutants.
  • Don’t burn driftwood from salt water as this produces toxic air emissions.
  • Never fill portable fuel tanks on board.
  • Consider not using anti-fouling paints.
  • Do not go onto bird rookeries
  • Observe seals, otters, whales and sea lions from a distance.
  • Kayakers please use toilet facilities where available. In undeveloped areas, plan to pack out your waste or practice no trace camping.

Low Impact Kayak and Canoe Touring Practices

A guide to minimize your impact on the aquatic environment and other recreationists. British Columbia’s extensive coastline and its numerous lakes and rivers provide many water-based recreation opportunities. Despite the length of these shorelines, much of the coast and interior waterways have limited landing sites. An increase in the number of people using our waterways for recreation, coupled with the limited number of landing sites, has led to damage of the natural environment in some areas. Whether you are running whitewater on the Fraser River, canoeing the Bowron Lakes, or kayaking Desolation Sound, your impact on the natural environment and other recreationists should always be considered. Adopting the guidelines outlined here will help ensure that your next outing on the water will be an enjoyable experience that also helps to protect the environment.

Remember to follow the “no trace camping” guidelines.

These are not to be rules but a personal commitment to preserving our environment, especially in the backcountry/wilderness areas of our province. People or groups that don’t practice these ethics will force agencies to place more controls on park users for the future. Certainly this is not the preferred route and BC Parks would much rather protect provincial parks relying more on personal ethics than the enforcement of regulations and restrictions. Here are seven key principles of Leave No Trace that we want you to practice:

Choose Your Campsite Carefully

There are a number of precautions and steps you can take to reduce camping impacts and leave a site in as natural a state as possible for the next visitor.Don’t assume you can camp anywhere, some areas, i.e. ecological reserves, are closed to camping. Further, entry to some areas is discouraged or prohibited. For example, boaters are requested not to enter Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve. Respect private property – do not trespass.If designated campsites are available use them. If no designated sites exist, choose a flood plain, beach, or sandbar – a non-vegetated area below the high water line. Areas with gravel or small rocks are best because they not only limit impact, but tend to have fewer insects. By choosing sites such as these, footprints, tent marks and other camp markings will soon be washed away. If it is not possible to choose a site below the high water line due to flooding, tides, or for other reasons choose a well worn site or a durable unused one. Preferably out of sight of the water. On ocean beaches you will want to set your camp up above the daily high tide line – be aware of the tide times and levels. Consult the tide and current tables published by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Around camp wear sandals or sneakers, not hiking boots, to minimize soil compaction. Watch where you walk to avoid crushing vegetation. In some areas suitable campsites are scarce. Set up your camp so that there will be room for others.

Finally, when in provincial and national parks be aware of, and respect, all rules and regulations including length of stay and group size.

Build a Fire Only if Necessary

Campfires on the beach are a significant part of recreation outings for many people; however, blackened circles of rocks and other campfire-related debris significantly diminish a wilderness experience. Bring a stove! If you must have a fire, and if fires are permitted, then please consider the following: Always check ahead regarding fire regulations and closures for the area you plan to be in. If a closure is in effect, respect it. Never count on a fire for cooking. Driftwood can be in short supply, so don’t count on it. One solution is to carry your own wood. Use existing fire containment structures. If there are none, use a fire pan – a container upon which the fire is built (garbage can lids or thin metal sheets that can be rolled up for transport work well). This will help contain the fire and prevent scars on the land. Simply build your fire on the pan after placing a layer of sand in it. If you’re on the ocean build the fire below the high tide line. Keep it small. Never cut vegetation for fuel, and limit the fire to one per party. Throw any blacked rocks into water or wash them. Do not scatter or bury charcoal or ash in your campsite or on the beach. In many well-used areas this practice has turned the earth an unsightly black color. Clear away the duff carefully until you reach dirt. A ring of rocks is not necessary, as this does little to contain a campfire and the flames will color them an unsightly black. Once lit, burn the fire carefully and never leave it unattended. With the exception of coastal regions, do not throw charcoal and ash into the water as it will likely end up being washed back to shore, or caught in an eddy downstream.

The best way to deal with fire remnants is to place them in a sturdy lidded box and use them as a base for tomorrow’s fire.

Dispose of Human Waste Carefully

Disposing of human waste can be a problem in water wilderness areas because what is deposited on the shore generally ends up draining into the water. Ocean beaches are generally not suitable for disposing of human waste; shorelines of freshwater bodies should never be used as a toilet. Recreationists must take precautions not to contaminate water supplies as many intestinal diseases are transmitted through water. The following are some points to consider when deciding how to deal with human waster. If a toilet is available, use it. The ideal solution when no toilet is available is to carry out all solid human waste – much easier then it seems if you are travelling by boat! Portable toilets can be bought at motorhome and camping stores. Or you could make you own by lining a sturdy lidded box with two garbage bags and placing a detachable toilet seat on top. After each use put some powdered Clorox on top. With a little practice this procedure requires little additional effort. If you do not have a portable toilet build your own using a shovel, trowel, or boot heel, dig a small hole 15 centimetres into the humus layer, at least 30 metres from water. Afterwards, cover the hole so micro-organisms can decompose the waste matter. Large groups should dig a long, shallow, latrine. Before you leave, cover the latrine with topsoil so that degradation can take place. Impact reduction tip: Pack a small folding trowel.Using the intertidal area as a laterine in not acceptable in provincial protected areas.

Be careful where you urinate. Choose a place well away from your site and at least 30 metres from fresh water.

Keep it Clean

The same adage holds true for travelling on water as it does on land – pack out what you pack in. The sight of other people’s garbage does not make for an enjoyable outing, and garbage can injure or kill aquatic animals. If you are travelling by boat then packing out your garbage should pose few problems. You will probably have some extra room, so if you see refuse left by someone else, pick that up too! Never bury your garbage, and never throw it into the water! A little pre-trip preparation will enable you to limit the amount of garbage you will have to carry. Leftover cooking water shouldn’t be scattered around the campsite because it attracts animals and insects, and can produce a lingering putrid smell. Bathing should be done at least 30 metres from the water, ideally in an area with organic soil. Use a biodegradable soap.

Respect Aquatic Life

The aquatic areas of BC are home to an incredible diversity of plant and animal life and should be treated with respect. While a sportfishing license is valid in provincial parks please limit your take to only what you will eat. Know the regulations.
Beaches are fascinating places, especially when the tide goes out. Many creatures favour the intertidal zone, the area between the high and low tides, because it offers food, shelter and safety. A single rock can shelter crabs, fish and clams, and can provide growing space for barnacles, sea anemones and mussels. Each of these creatures is both predator and prey in the intertidal ecosystem. It is a dynamic community, where all organisms have a role.

The intertidal zone is an environment in constant transition. Twice daily the tides move in and out. Plants and animals submerged one hour are exposed the next. Severe changes in temperature, pressure, light, salinity and oxygen content occur with each tidal shift. It’s no wonder that life at the edge seems strange to us, the surroundings are so different from our own.

Rules for Exploring the Beach

Watch where you step. Some intertidal creatures are hard to see. If you move a rock, do so carefully. Return the rock to its original position before you leave. Keep a safe distance from intertidal creatures. They live in a harsh environment, and may protect themselves with claws, spines or sharp shells. Do not remove anything from the beach. People often collect kelp, driftwood, rocks, sand and gravel. All these materials provide essential habitat for beach dwellers. Driftwood and kelp also supply critical nutrients that work their way up the food chain to salmon and killer whales.

Be Aware of People Places and Things

BC’s coastline and inland waterways were and still are pathways and gathering places for native peoples. What is a good landing site today has probably been used for thousands of years. Treat these places as culturally sensitive and potential archaeological sites. Do not damage these sites or remove artifacts.

Respect the rights of other water users, other recreationists, fishers and those who make a living on the water.