The Salish Sea

Salish Sea Map Salish Sea Map

           The Salish Sea and it's surrounding basin extend from the Strait of Georgia and Desolation Sound to the south end of the Puget Sound and west to the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca including the inland marine waters of southern British Columbia, Canada and northern Washington, USA. These separately named bodies of water form a single estuarine ecosystem. Formally adopted by British Columbia and Washington State in 2009, 'The Salish Sea' as a name for these waters has been embraced by citizens on both sides of the border for years including the Coast Salish Gathering (the alliance of Coast Salish Tribal and First Nation leaders).

           The Salish Sea is connected to the Pacific Ocean primarily via the Strait of Juan de Fuca (with relatively slight tidal influence from the north around Vancouver Island and through Johnstone Strait) and is contained by Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula. In addition to the Gulf and San Juan Islands the watershed contains the lower Fraser River Delta and the Puget Lowlands as well as the Hood Canal, the Tacoma Narrows, Whidbey Island and Deception Pass.

           Over 7 million people live within the drainage basin of the Salish Sea (sometimes referred to as the Georgia Basin - Puget Sound watershed), including the cities of Vancouver, Seattle, Victoria, Olympia, Nanaimo, Bellingham, Everett, Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Coupeville, Oak Harbor and Tacoma.

           The name Salish Sea is not a historical term for the inland waters of British Columbia and Washington State. It was proposed by marine biologist Bert Webber in 1988. Dr. Webber recognized the need for a single geographic term that encompassed the entire ecosystem, spanning across the international border. Having a name to identify the entire area calls attention to the trans-border commonality of water, air, wildlife and history. Rather than being a replacement for any of the existing names, the designation Salish Sea is an overlay which includes and unites the established and familiar names of the various water and land bodies (the Strait of Georgia, Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound, Gulf Islands, Whidbey Island, San Juan Islands, etc.). The name also pays tribute to the Coast Salish peoples who have inhabited the area since long before Euro-American explorers first arrived. In 2009 the governments of both British Columbia and Washington officially adopted the name Salish Sea.

           The surface area of the Salish Sea (saltwater) is approximately 18,000 sq. km. (or about 7,000 sq miles). Within the Salish Sea there are hundreds of islands (or even thousands, depending upon one’s definition of an ‘island’). The surrounding Salish Sea drainage basin (not counting the upper Fraser River watershed) includes approximately 110,000 sq km (or about 42,000 sq miles).

                                     Approximate Maximum                Approximate                    Saltwater Area
                                     Water Depth                                 Surface Area                    % Of Sea
Strait of Georgia                 410 m.                                    6400 sq. km                            36%
Strait of Juan de Fuca        250 m.                                    4400 sq. km                            24%
Desolation Sound               600 m.                                    1100 sq. km                            6%
Puget Sound                      280 m.                                    2500 sq. km                            14%
Other BC     Jervis Inlet -    660 m.                                    2000 sq. km                            11%
                    (Discovery Passage, Jervis Inlet, Howe Sound & S. Gulf Islands)
Other WA    Haro Strait -    300 m.                                    1600 sq. km                              9%
                    (Haro Strait, Rosario Strait, San Juan Islands, Bellingham & Padilla Bay)

From: Whidbey Environmental Action Network
Cartography By: Stefan Freelan
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Page Updated: January 2014