Climate Adaptation in the Clayoquot Sound

John Lerner, Neil Hughes, Rachel Holt, Tom Okey, Katie Beach, Martin Carver, Theo Mlynowski, Don MacKinnon
Created: 9/28/2011 - Updated: 3/02/2020


According to ClimateBC modeling projections, the Clayoquot Sound region can expect the mean annual temperature to increase as much as 4°C by the 2080s under the more extreme scenario (A1F1: increasing emissions). Temperatures will increase throughout the seasons, but slightly more in the spring and summer than in the winter and autumn. The mean annual precipitation is projected to increase as much as 764 mm by the 2080s in what is already a very wet environment. The bulk of this precipitation will occur in the winter months in conjunction with a significant reduction in snow. Projections regarding rain and wind intensity are uncertain but there is reason to believe that these will increase as well during the coming century. This project involved exploring the potential impacts of climate change and possible responses for three First Nation communities over a two year period (2010-2011).


The Ahousaht, Hesquiaht and Tla-o-qui-aht are three of five Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation communities living in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, occupying one of the few intact ecosystems on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. While the communities are relatively dynamic and thriving, they are still healing from the effects of colonization and the residential school system and they are increasingly experiencing stress over natural resource declines, which are affecting diet and health as well as culture and livelihoods. Many changes have been observed over the last 30 years in the region and are thought to be caused by poor resource management, human greed, and climate change.

The combination of changes in temperature, precipitation, and storm activity as well as significant changes in ocean water chemistry will likely have a significant effect on the natural and built environment upon which the Clayoquot communities depend. Several key fish and shellfish species; many of these species are expected to decline or shift habitats in response, which could weaken the communities’ food security, health, culture, and livelihood. Rain, wind and wave activity could become more violent, which could jeopardize human safety as well as the communities’ housing and infrastructure. However, warming temperatures are not likely to negatively affect the cedar-hemlock forest species of the area and the forest industry on which the First Nation communities partially depend upon for employment. Moreover, summer warming temperatures may improve cultivation and tourism opportunities if these increases are not accompanied by drought.  

The projected climate changes and recent environmental degradation have encouraged the Clayoquot communities to assert their vision for sustainable development based on the concept of “Hishuk’ish’ tsawalk,” which means that everything is interconnected, that everything is one. In following this vision they look to a form of development that re-establishes a healthy integration of economy and environment in which there is a balance of creation and consumption and a continual investment in biological and economic diversity. The communities also hope to respond proactively to climate change rather than react to it if and when climate impacts become apparent. Their general adaptation approach in this regard is to:

  • Slow the negative impacts of climate change on the land and the ocean by reducing unsustainable human use and by restoring natural habitats where possible.  
  • Build individual and community capacity to adapt to eventual climate and ecological changes by strengthening key community assets, including health and safety resources, local economies, food supply systems, housing and infrastructure and cultural, social, and political resources.


The impetus for the project was the desire of the three communities to explore the potential impacts of climate change and possible responses. The Hesquiaht Band spearheaded the project in late 2009 and brought the two other communities on board. The project goals were to:

  • determine probable climate scenarios,
  • determine probable biophysical and socio-economic impacts of the scenarios, and
  • identify sensible adaptation options for the communities.  

The methodology of the planning process included integrating community and traditional knowledge with scientific knowledge, ecosystem and community-based adaptation planning processes, and resilience and vulnerability processes. Ecolibrio and EcoTrust Canada led the planning process in collaboration with citizens of Hesquiaht, Ahousaht and Tla-oqui-aht and experts in hydrology, climatology, fisheries, and ecology. Four First Nation facilitators were hired to undertake extensive survey work and coordination of community communications. Phase I of the project included a survey of traditional resources use, impressions about climate changes over the last 30 years, and climate modeling. Phase II of the project included estimates of possible biophysical impacts on terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems as well as possible socio-economic impacts on key community support systems. Key threats were seen to be those associated with marine impacts, including increased storm severity, resulting effects on infrastructure and safety, and changing ocean temperatures and chemistry and resulting impacts on fisheries.

The following list of adaptation measures were recommended for implementation:

Climate Adaptation Objectives

Key Measures

Maintain Ecological Health

  • Reform fishery planning
  • Shift fishery catch
  • Protect and restore habitat

Strengthen Housing and Infrastructure

  • Upgrade key assets for storm surges, flooding, rain, wind and wind throw.
  • Pay particular attention to ventilation and mould issues.

Diversify Livelihoods

  • Increase investments in multiple economic sectors
  • Undertake risk reduction initiatives
  • Increase skill development support

Diversify Food Supply

  • Shift subsistence fishery catch over time
  • Explore closed containment & multi-trophic aquaculture
  • Increase gardening and food preservation support
  • Educate youth on traditional practices and healthy diets

Improve Health and Safety Resources

  • Update emergency preparedness planning
  • Coordinate early warning systems with government
  • Monitor for new pests and diseases 


Outcomes and Conclusions

The outcomes of the planning process were greater awareness of potential climate changes and possible community responses and an adaptation action plan. Key limitations of the planning process included time constraints to include more traditional knowledge and community engagement, and more detailed scientific analysis/modeling of potential wave and wind threats.  

The project was completed spring 2011. No organized implementation of the project recommendations is occurring but activities consistent with these recommendations are already happening as a matter of course. For example, the communities are already working to diversify their economies, improving their community gardens, improving the quality and design of their houses, negotiating greater control over the fishery and management of the marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and strengthening emergency preparedness planning. Results from this project are also being considered in various infrastructure upgrades. Ecolibrio and Ecotrust Canada have made themselves available to work on further adaptation measures if the communities desire.


Information submitted by user. Last updated September 2011.


Lerner, J., Hughes, N., Holt, R., Okey, T., Beach, K., Carver, M., Mlynowski, T., and MacKinnon, D. (2011). Climate Adaptation in the Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia. Ed. Rachel M. Gregg [Case study on a project of Ecolibrio]. Retrieved from CAKE: (Last updated September 2011)

Project Contact(s)

Ecolibrio is a sustainable development consultancy based in British Columbia, Canada.  It provides livelihood development, climate adaptation and land use planning advisory services to First Nations, municipalities, government as well as non-government organizations in Canada and abroad.