Marine Infrastructure

BC has three major international ports, four regional ports, and 40 local harbours [74]. Within the MaPP region, Prince Rupert is the largest port with the capacity for shipping infrastructure and container ships.

Most communities within the MaPP region are highly dependent on marine infrastructure for transportation of goods and services; as support for the fishery and aquaculture industries; and for providing connections with other essential infrastructure and utilities such as roads, sewage systems, power and communications cables. The greatest threats to marine infrastructure in the MaPP region are likely to be sea level rise and increasing extreme weather events.

A container ship sits at rest at the container terminal in Prince Rupert.
Container terminal, Prince Rupert | Photo by Gilian Dusting

Sea level rise

Sea level rise already threatens coastal infrastructure, and the added risk of storm surge flooding increases the vulnerability of coastal infrastructure across the province [27,74]. Sea level rise is expected to inundate some of the critical infrastructure at the coastal areas. Some communities in BC have begun to take action to reduce the risk of sea level rise through investments in built infrastructure for shoreline protection as an adaptation measure [27]. Further adaptation examples can be found in urban areas near the Fraser River floodplain, an area that is highly vulnerable to sea level rise due to low lying geology and dense population.

A recent analysis found that the costs of sea level related damage to on-shore built infrastructure would be higher in coastal BC than any other coastal region in Canada [108].

Winds, waves, and extreme weather

Across the MaPP region, increasing intensity and frequency of storms is likely to increase inundation risk (flooding) and erosion risk to marine infrastructure, especially for low lying communities [109]. Properties along the coast also will experience increased risk of wave damage, which is associated with coastal erosion. It is highly likely that climate changes, especially during El Niño events, will lead to high coastal erosion across the entire eastern Pacific region [109].

Extreme weather events are expected to create disruptions to marine transportation lanes, potentially lead to wave and wind damage to infrastructure and utilities, and reduce access to critical services [110]. Extreme precipitation events in particular may damage fixed coastal infrastructure such as airports (e.g. Sandspit Airport on Haida Gwaii), and ports (e.g. Port of Prince Rupert), and well as affect marine transportation lanes [74,110]. Overall, climate-related impacts to marine infrastructure are likely to be higher than anticipated, as many communities in coastal BC already have infrastructure deficits that will require increased investment [91,103]. Future winter and spring sea surface height (SSH) levels are also projected to be consistently higher, which will further exacerbate the flooding impacts of sea level rise [21]. Large peak flows and storms can interrupt delivery of goods such as fuel and food to remote places. On the other hand, climate change may also offer some opportunities for the marine transportation sector: longer construction seasons and reduced winter maintenance could reduce costs and increase annual operating budgets. In the longer term, increased sea levels may mean that vessels with deeper draughts will be able to enter existing ports, perhaps an opportunity for marine shipping [110].

Ocean waves crash in a storm with dark clouds in the background.
Photo by Barb Dining.
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