Graham Island is the most northern of the Queen Charlotte Islands, also known as Haida Gwaii, located approximately 100 kilometres off British Columbia’s North Pacific coast. The study area — the northeast area of Graham Island — is highly sensitive to future sea-level rise. It naturally experiences extreme environmental conditions, including tidal ranges approaching seven metres, intense wave action, storm surges, and strong winds, typically above gale force. The people of northeast Graham Island are no strangers to the powerful elements of nature and have shown resilience in the face of these natural hazards, which also include strong earthquakes.
Two communities on northeast Graham Island — Masset and Old Masset Haida Nation Reserve — are low-lying and vulnerable to flooding. An evacuation route for these communities was closed for six months due to inundation and washouts. Further south near the community of Tlell, many property owners have lost land to erosion. The main highway that connects the northern communities to Queen Charlotte City, the ferries, and the Sandspit Airport, is continuously threatened in this area by erosion and flooding.
The study took a local perspective and used an integrated approach to assess human and biophysical vulnerability to climate change. This involved a local focus group to guide the research, in depth interviews with key community members (e.g., emergency and municipal planners, Haida elders, business owners and local residents), a community workshop, and several community research forums. The study examined community resilience and adaptive capacity, as well as environmental sensitivity to climate change, and combined these findings to assess ways to build on existing and potential adaptive capacities at the community and household scale.