The Heart of the Salish Sea

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Where on Earth is the Salish Sea? According to a recent report published by The SeaDoc Society, less than half of the 8 million people in Washington and British Columbia who live alongside the Salish Sea have heard of the name. In Washington State only 5% of people knew of the name. In BC the percentage was only slightly higher, at 12%.
Click here to read the report.

GreenAngels founders, Ina and Dave, lived on Pender Island, in the heart of the Salish Sea for 14 years. They both grew up on Vancouver Island, and now reside in Sidney—home of the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea. For anyone blessed to live on these calm, inland waters, in one of the most beautiful and abundant marine environments in the world, the Salish Sea is more than just a body of water—it is our breath, our livelihood and our passion.

Salish Sea map thumbnail    Click to enlarge 

That the Salish Sea is a united sea is clear when you examine the above map by Stefan Freelan (2009). Unadorned by the location of the cities or the international border, it clearly depicts the Salish Sea as a single, integrated body of water.

The Salish Sea is an "umbrella" name for the unique inland sea ecosystem that encompasses Puget Sound, Juan de Fuca Strait and Strait of Georgia. It’s shores lie on the coasts of British Columbia, Canada, and Washington, USA.  Washington marine biologist, Bert Webber, coined the name “Salish Sea” in 1989 in order to help define the inland marine ecosystem as one entity—regardless of international borders. The need to define this unique and connected ecosystem was first realized in the 1970’s during extensive studies undertaken to assess the destruction that could result from oil tanker spills.


Turn Point, South Pender Island. Credit: Brandon Harvey

By 2003, as transboundary efforts to protect and restore the Salish Sea increased, the name was becoming more recognized, and in 2005, 70 Tribes and First Nations from Washington State and British Columbia that are located on or near the Salish Sea joined together and collectively formed the “Coast Salish Gathering”. The purpose of the Coast Salish Gathering is to work with the governments of Canada and the United States to protect and manage the resources of their Salish Sea:

“We have come together to share, prioritize, develop and recommend policies and actions to ensure the protection of our shared environment and natural resources in our homeland, the Salish Sea.”

For generations, white settlers have raised their families on the many islands in the Salish Sea, but for many more thousands of years, long before the invisible boundary between two countries was imposed, the Coast Salish Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest have paddled, fished and harvested shellfish along the shores of the Salish Sea. Knowing no boundaries, Coast Salish families crisscrossed the Salish Sea, fishing together, celebrating together and raising their children. There is no question in their minds of the validity of the name.

In 2008, Bert Webber resubmitted his naming application to government and finally, in late 2009, both Washington and British Columbia officially adopted the name. A celebration was held by the Coast Salish Tribes in July 2010 at the Songhee First Nation near Victoria. Over 2,500 people attended, formally recognizing the Salish Sea name in word, song and dance.

Today, more and more transboundary efforts and organizations dedicated to protecting the Salish Sea are developing and fast gaining support. In his article How the Salish Sea got its name, Bert Webber says:

“My hope is that the name will help heighten the awareness of the over seven million people who ring its shores to the task of stopping the degradation of natural resources and help focus our attention on restoring the damage already done.”

A 2016 initiative to nominate the Salish Sea become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, spearheaded by the creative team at SeaLegacy, proves that Webber’s vision is finally becoming a reality. Watch the video here:

Last year, the plight of the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW), now a critically endangered species, who reside exclusively in the Salish Sea, brought world-wide attention to the ecological crisis that faces the sea today; beginning with the whale Tahlequah, who carried her dead calf for over 17 days and 1,000 miles; the extremely rare super-pod that all 75 remaining residents formed to mourn with her; and ending with the devastating death of Scarlet, a three-year-old calf who presumably died from starvation.

Tahleqhua and dead calf

20-year-old Tahleqhua carried her dead calf for 17 days and over 1,000 miles

But there is still hope! Again, the iconic whales have given us a sign: very early in January, a calf was born to the L-Pod of the SRKW, the first live birth in over three years. With the many First Nations, political leaders, organizations and individuals all working together as one, in cooperation with our relatives the Orcas, we CAN save the Salish Sea.

How can you help?


SeaDoc Society

Salish Sea Institute of Western Washington

Raincoast Conservation Foundation


Galiano Conservancy

Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea

Coast Salish Gathering

Ocean Wise

Association for Denman Island Marine Stewards

Pender Ocean Defenders

UVIC Students for the Salish Sea

Whiteswan Environmental (WE)