What's in store for Vancouver's False Creek? Scientists and locals take first steps toward revitalization

·3 min read
False Creek is believed to be one of the most polluted waterways in the Vancouver area thanks to sewage overflow, runoff and waste from boats. The city, a local community group and a team of scientists are hoping to change that. (Yasmin Gandham/CBC - image credit)
False Creek is believed to be one of the most polluted waterways in the Vancouver area thanks to sewage overflow, runoff and waste from boats. The city, a local community group and a team of scientists are hoping to change that. (Yasmin Gandham/CBC - image credit)

Volunteers and scientists are in the midst of a six-day "bio blitz" in Vancouver's False Creek, collecting water samples as an initial step toward cleaning up the inlet between Science World and English Bay.

The project, running until Wednesday, is a collaboration between local non-profit False Creek Friends, scientists from the Hakai Institute coastal research centre, and the City of Vancouver.

The blitz is part of a push to see False Creek recognized as an urban marina or a protected environmental area — as well as somewhere people can safely swim — beginning with a biological inventory to identify as many species in the inlet as possible over six days.

"We're collecting water here in False Creek to help us build the inventory of biodiversity that we have in this waterway," said Matt Whelan, the BioBlitz project principal investigator who works with the Hakai Institute.

Whelan says the group takes water samples and runs them through a fine mesh filter to then analyze the DNA of plants and animals that are left behind.

Researchers are also looking at what types of bacteria are in the waterway, which is heavily polluted by sewage overflow, runoff and boater waste. In the past, parts of False Creek have registered water pollution levels that are four times what's considered safe for humans to swim in.

Researchers from Hakai and partners from several other universities will be conducting shoreline and intertidal surveys on foot, studying plankton and soft sediment, embarking on diving expeditions, studying water samples under a microscope and compiling information submitted by the public on an app called iNaturalist.

Yasmin Gandham/CBC
Yasmin Gandham/CBC

Tim Bray, co-founder of False Creek Friends, says most people in Vancouver feel False Creek is not suitable for swimming but the hope is that can change. Plans are already underway to clean up the water and Bray says the new research will paint a clearer picture of what needs to be done.

"If we want to improve False Creek, the first essential step is to do the science so that we know what the problems are," Bray said.

"We're going to get a snapshot of what's living here. What's healthy and what's toxic, so we can direct our investments and efforts in the right direction."

WATCH | Sharks and a crab fight over food in False Creek

False Creek Friends' vision is to restore the marine environment with guidance from the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Watuth nations. They want to make sure Indigenous knowledge and stewardship are part of any future development plans on the three nations' unceded territory.

"It could become a park, it could become a conservation area," Bray said.

Yasmin Gandham/CBC
Yasmin Gandham/CBC

Looking ahead

In a statement to CBC, Vancouver sustainability specialist Rachel Telling said the city is providing research space to the scientists involved in the bio blitz and will be using the data for the city and park board's coastal adaptation, healthy waters plan and other environmental planning.

Telling said the city has asked locals to weigh in with what they'd like to see done in the area and one of the main goals of the project is to "start a larger conversation about how to revitalize and sustain False Creek in the future."

The Sea2City challenge, which recently wrapped up its community engagement phase, asked Vancouverites to submit design ideas for the inlet and development concepts that account for climate change and sea level rise.

The city says the final results will be shared sometime in October and the overhaul of the False Creek inlet will likely take place over "several years."