Some Frequently Asked Questions

(more will be added)

Protected Marine Zone

At what stage is the planning for the National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA)?

The NMCA planned for our area has not been established. Parks Canada is currently presenting its changes to the Policy Objectives and Regulations of National Marine Conservation Areas (NMCAs).

There is a Public Consultation, deadline for responses July 10th, 2019. 

We believe that there is a problem with allowing industrialization in the Conservation Area. Read our assessment here.

Why is the National Park not sufficient?

The ocean between the islands has no protection at all. The existing marine reserves created along with the National Park are tiny. Canada commited to protect 10% of its ocean area, yet almost all of it is in deep sea while leaving out islands and shores. The character of our islands is not protected - we are open for industrial expansion around the islands.

Don't we have enough restrictions already?

Very little will change for residents and their businesses. Life on the islands is meant to continue as before. This is not about creating a reserve where nothing is allowed. The objective is to protect the sea between the islands from new development that is industrial in scale and emissions, or that alters the shores and ocean floor.

It is good for business. Tourism and many related businesses depend on keeping the rural and natural character of our islands intact.

The islands were protected in 1974 - why not the area between them?

Industrial expansion on the water was not expected in 1974. The situation is complicated on the water between the islands, because all levels of government (local, provincial, and federal) have interests and jurisdiction.

Without a strong voice from residents, local and environmental interests are likely to be rolled over.

Can I still go fishing?

Not if there is an oil spill or some other serious water pollution from anchoring freighters or tankers.

Otherwise, Yes.  Nothing will change for recreational use in the lowest level Zone 4, which is likely for the waters surrounding Salt Spring Island. The only thing we would like to see limited is industrialization at a larger scale.

Restrictions in other areas and zones are already in place, for example in relation to conservation of Orca or Rockfish. 

About Noise

I don't hear much noise. Aren't you exaggerating the issue?

No. The noise and other emissions from anchoring freighters are devastating for residents in some neighbourhoods on Salt Spring Island. And we don't even know what it does to the marine mammals and the environment.

An anchoring freighter or oil tanker may soon show up near you.

There is some variation how people will experience noise (see question below).

How will new anchorages affect me?

There is no doubt that the currently activated and planned new anchorages will affect many people on Salt Spring Island - from annoying them, preventing them from resting on patios and beaches, to driving them sleepless and crazy, or making them sick.

Typically, within 1-2 km noise levels can be up to 80dB, within 2-3 km up to 60 dB, and within 3-5 km 35-50 dB. Imagine sleeping beside a loud fridge or have your neighbour running the lawn mower 24/7 at the same pitch.

It is difficult to predict how you will experience it. Some residents are experiencing a nightmare with the new anchorages. Therefore we encourage everyone to be on the safe side and help to keep our island a healthy place.

Below some more detailed information why people will have varying experiences of the devastating noise:

It is not Rocket Science to recognize that we have a serious noise problem. But not everybody will be affected the same. Noise from anchorages is difficult to describe in numbers.

Distance, wind, humidity, trees, personal hearing ability and awareness - these are all factors shaping the personal experience.

The use of Decibels (dB, or dBA) has become a standard. The problem is that dBA was developed for preventing hearing loss at extremely loud noises, for example for industrial workers.

Constant and chronic noise is much different. The unit dBA is less useful because it is geared towards higher and audible frequencies, while underrepresenting lower frequencies.

Lower frequencies travel much further than higher sounds, and can be more harmful in chronic noise pollution, even below our hearing threshold.

Newer scientific research is shifting from using only numbers in dB to include an emerging concept of defining 'Annoyance' by chronic noise in people. More than a number is measured, and this appears to better predict how chronic noise affects medical health in people. 

What is the difference between Hz and dB?

A hertz (Hz) measures a frequency. A frequency describes how often something happens per unit of time.

Sound is pressure travelling in waves. One Hz means one completed wave per second. A high musical note has a higher frequency (more wave peaks per second) than a low tone, which travels in a slower wave movement with peaks further apart.

Human hearts beat at 1-2 Hz. Human hearing is from about 20Hz to 16,000Hz (=16kHz). Radio frequencies are measured in kilohertz (kHz), megahertz (MHz), or gigahertz (GHz). Light and radio-active radiation are even higher.

A decibel (dB) is a unit of sound pressure level and measures the 'volume' or 'loudness' of a sound. Some variations of this unit in measuring noise are called dBA, dBC, or dBZ.

The problem with dB is that it is measured across a band of frequencies, and crunched into one number. For example, dBA attempts to calculate the intensity over the band of human hearing, with some frequencies weighted differently. It is commonly used to evaluate very loud noise that can damage the human ear.

Are numbers in dB accurate in describing noise? Lower frequencies are underestimated when measured in dBA. But low frequencies travel further, through house walls and human bodies, and are usually perceived as more annoying - often more as a pressure in the chest than a sound in the ears. Chronic ongoing noise is perceived differently than short periods of louder noise. A number cannot tell the whole story.

Where can I complain about light and noise emissions?

You can try to complain at the Port Authorities website:

What they don't tell you is that you need to identify the vessel's name, for example here:
www.marinetraffic.com or a local ship monitoring website (Pat Bay Webcam & Weather).

Many residents have found this approach frustrating and futile, see here.

It is necessary to complain to higher levels and request that these anchorages are deactivated or eliminated. See: Take Action


Map of possible anchorages after 2020: Fact or Fiction?

The 'after 2020' map is an estimate based on these facts:
Concentrations of newly activated anchorages elsewhere in the Gulf Islands (red triangles), and approximate anchoring depths. Transport Canada stating their intentions: 'equal and fair' distribution of anchoring traffic along the southern coast; address increasing demand for anchorages; develop a protocol of how to identify and establish new anchorages in the next few years.

If you put these facts together, you can draw your own conclusions whether Salt Spring Island will get anchorages like the rest of the Gulf Islands or not.

Isn't this a 'not in my backyard' approach?

Blaming people for having a 'not in my backyard' attitude is not a constructive way of looking at things.

The same argument can also be flipped around: Why should you feel OK that the quality of life of others and the environment are being harmed, as long as you don't experience it personally (yet)?

A constructive approach is to seek better solutions, instead of pitting members of a community against each other along the lines of who gets more or less of the harm.

Is anchoring a right guaranteed by federal laws?

Maritime law is complex and evolving to meet changes in our society.

Anchoring is a right where no rules are restricting it. Adapting these rules to 'Protecting and Preserving' the southern Gulf Islands is not only possible but necessary.

The industrial expansion of activating anchorages in the Gulf Islands are not 'incidental anchorage'. They are systematic, planned, regular, and in nature more of a floating industrial port than 'incidental anchorage'. The requirements for expanding a port facility have not been met.

The oceans used to be in purely federal jurisdiction, but this is changing. The province of BC is recognized to own shores and the ocean floor between islands. Court decisions have recently granted local governments such as municipalities increasing rights to planning zones onto the water and for zoning of anchoring locations.

Open for debate is the following: Are emissions from anchoring vessels such as noise and light subject to jurisdiction on land once these emissions intrude from the water?

Too late to stop the demands of a growing economy?

The protection of the Gulf Islands in 1974 happened exactly because of a growing population and economy. We are at crossroads again with expanding marine shipping and need adjusted safeguards for being able to 'protect and preserve'.

The objective is not to turn back the wheel of time, but to put realistic measures in place to preserve some important values despite growing populations, traffic, and demands of economies.

Without people voicing their concerns it certainly is not likely to happen.

Trade is needed. How can you be against freighters anchoring?

We are not against trade or freighters in general.

Using a protected island group as an extended industrial port is not 'trade'. It is a specific decision of how to manage vessels in our waters.

Some people in government allowed this because it appears the easiest way of doing it - as long as no one is opposing it.

It is not the only way how trading and shipping can be done. What other port is doing this? Better solutions are possible, for example protecting some marine areas and improving logistics to avoid waiting times for vessels.

Trade is possible along with protecting some special places like the Gulf Islands, and along with protecting our health and environment.

Some analogies:

Cities are needed - but is it wrong to be against industrial development in city parks?
Factories are needed - but is it wrong to be to be against dumping of chemical waste into the water?
Agriculture is needed - but is it wrong to be against harmful substances such as DDT on our food?

More About Anchorages

Is it true that these anchorages were established in the 1970s, before the Islands Trust?


The anchorages at Captain's Passage outside Ganges Harbour were not in the official nautical charts printed in 1992. They were added at some later point, without any community consultation or assessments that we are aware of.

The activation of the anchorages at Captain's Passage into high use was also done without information and consultation. In fact, the Islands Trust published a map in 2015 that informed Salt Springers that these anchorages were not going to be used.

We have not looked into other anchorages in the Gulf Islands, and whether some of them were established earlier.

Is it true that bulk carriers can come here without a scheduled date at port?

To our knowledge, many bulk freighters are for hire and operate under the opportunistic system of 'Tramp Trade'.  They can simply arrive here without a scheduled date for loading, and are guaranteed an anchorage free of charge, with any overflow going into the Gulf Islands.

Are really all arriving freighters under contract and ready to load? Or can freighters sit here and use their time for maintenance, or possibly stretch their waiting time as reserve capacity for speculative purposes of maximizing profits with better prices or opportunities - at the cost of the environment and the living quality of residents in the Gulf Islands?

Scheduled arrivals of bulkers may be one of the instruments to ensure that overflow anchorages in the Gulf Islands are not needed. Transport Canada has not revealed any progress addressing this issue.

What types of ships are these anchorages for? Are oil tankers really an issue?

Three are three major types of ships coming to port:

(1) Container Vessels operate as a scheduled 'Liner Service' much like a 'bus service' of the seas. Their handling at port is usually fairly efficient and waiting times at anchor are not part of their routine.

(2) Bulk carriers are more like 'taxi services' of the sea (called 'Tramp Shipping'). They are hired for specific export contracts. They simply show up some time before expected delivery, request an anchorage, and join the line-up of waiting ships until all inspections and preparations of goods to be loaded are completed. These inefficencies can take weeks and the problem of 'traffic jams' is simply dumped into overflow anchorages in the Gulf Islands. This appears to be happening mostly with freighters transporting grain and coal.

(3) Oil tankers are a specific type of bulk carrier and they operate as such. A recent study reported that 75% of tanker voyages had excessive delays in line-ups at anchor resulting in penalizing fees called 'demurrage'. Members of the industry described the situation as 'So the ships hurry to port and sit there and wait, sometimes for weeks. We hurry to wait.'

In 2018, a total of 42 different tankers were using anchorages in English Bay 64 times, but so far have been rarely directed to anchorages in the Gulf Islands (data from the Pacific Pilotage Authority). This current situation is with a limited pipeline capacity for only about one tanker arriving per week.

But what will happen, when the approved expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline will see 7-10 tankers arriving per week? With a new tanker arriving every day, all the minor delays with technical and other issues will add up in the usual problems seen with bulk freighters. Congestion and line-ups are forming, waiting times explode, and anchorages are used up quickly. Ships compete for delivery and make things worse by arriving earlier than necessary - because anchorages are assigned inefficiently on a simple first come first served basis.

Oil tankers are an issue. They already compete for anchorages in a system that is not working. Now add tanker congestions into the mix. It would be unwise to assume that an increase in tanker traffic will not be felt in the Gulf Islands. The best current knowledge predicts there will be more problems, unless the current port practices of using anchorages will be improved and limited. Otherwise we will see more tankers in the Gulf Islands - or tankers will displace bulk freighters from anchorages near port into the Gulf Islands.

Anchorages are intended for ships waiting to be loaded at port - for both empty bulk carriers (freighters) and empty oil tankers.

But they are also intended as refuge for ships in distress.

Consider the following: If designated anchorages will persist in the Gulf Islands, they are like magnets to any loaded oil tankers that are damaged or in distress because of technical or weather problems, not only en route from Vancouver but also from the waters of the entire Pacific Northwest towards Asia. 

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