The Thriving Coastal Communities Initiative

Rural and resource-based coastal communities in British Columbia (BC) are facing a number of pressing challenges that are affecting the holistic health and well-being of local people. The challenges facing coastal communities include being disconnected from decision-making process, a changing climate, rapidly evolving ecosystems, increasing pollution, declining investment, loss of community infrastructure, increasing competition over marine space, loss of access to fisheries and increasingly complex marine management regimes. Local communities are feeling the impacts of these pressures and changes in very real ways. Research into communities on the BC coast suggests that they are experiencing loss of livelihoods, declining economies, outmigration of youth to urban centers, loss of food security, increasing drug use, and a suite of physical and mental health challenges. It is important that coastal communities continue to thrive and maintain an active presence on the water. Yet, change is a constant for coastal communities. The health and well-being, indeed the persistence, of coastal communities depends on their capacity to proactively respond to external change and challenge. The presence of thriving communities on the coast is also important for Canadian society – as coastal communities can strengthen rural-urban dynamics, support robust food systems and economies, be the eyes on the longest coastline in the world, be first responders in the case of emergencies, and be active stewards of the marine environment.

With support from an initial Convene Grant from the Vancouver Foundation, we pulled together a team of collaborators and partners to develop a project titled “The Thriving Coastal Communities Initiative”. For our initial activity, we convened a meeting of 24 experts and thought-leaders to explore the issues facing coastal communities and identify priority solution-oriented research projects for further development. Participants had expertise across a variety of realms of community well-being such as economic development, infrastructure, health, food systems, social justice, culture, climate vulnerability and adaptation, fisheries and conservation, and governance. Our central question for the initial participatory workshop was “How can coastal communities continue to thrive amidst the significant changes and challenges that they are facing?” and our central concern was “What can we do to help?” through action research projects. Through facilitated discussions and dialogues, we drew on the wisdom of the group to respond to a number of questions related to the status of well-being in coastal communities, the changes that they are experiencing, the actions they are taking to respond to change and promote local well-being, and priority research topics related to coastal community well-being.

As the workshop results presented in this report makes clear, communities are facing many challenges that are affecting their well-being but they are also taking many actions to promote local well-being. We identified a number of priority action research projects focused on various topics (e.g., economic development, fisheries, food security, governance, the environment, and cross-cutting concerns) related to well-being in coastal communities in British Columbia. Our next steps are to share these results, continue to build partnerships with interested organizations (e.g., communities, NGOs, governments, funders, universities), seek additional funding for priority projects, and further develop and implement several of the priority projects. Through our efforts, we hope to continue to support coastal communities in their efforts to promote local well-being and continue to thrive amidst change.