What is the Salish Sea?

In the 1970’s, Canadian/American biologist Bert Webber was working on oil-spill issues in the fragile inland sea that stretches from Campbell River on eastern Vancouver island to Seattle, Washington, in the United States and west to Juan de Fuca Strait. Canadian scientists called their area of responsibility the Strait of Georgia while the Americans called their Puget Sound. But using both names was clumsy when they were trying to describe the entire shared water body. Oil knows no boundaries, nor do fish and marine mammals, and the scientists could see the problem of not identifying this water body as a single entity.

Webber thought that if they created a name for this distinct inland sea, like the Mediterranean, people would think about their shared responsibility to the health of the region. He coined the name the Salish Sea, in recognition of the Salish-speaking people who lived around and on it. In many of the dialects of Salish people, the sea is simply referred to as “saltwater” and the people themselves as “saltwater people.”

Today First nations in both countries have formed a Salish Sea Council to tackle joint issues; tour operators use the name; it appears in several books; and Parks Canada embraced the name with an educational package for children, including a song called “Salish Sea.”

The book Islands in the Salish Sea: A Community Atlas follows on the tradition to create an awareness of our shared responsibility of this wonderful sea. Not often in the 21st century is there an opportunity to name a sea, but the time has come to give a single name to one of the world’s most abundant and diverse ecosystems.

Islands in the Salish Sea: A Community Atlas