The Seawall is detrimental to the environment and our wallets

The Vancouver attraction needs to go, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the coast

ILLUSTRATION: Angela Shen / The Peak

By: C Icart, Staff Writer

Several significant weather events have characterized the past few weeks in Vancouver. It all culminated with king tides: “extremely high tides that happen about twice a year when the sun and moon’s gravitational forces reinforce each other” — ​causing flooding. Some parts of Metro Vancouver saw record-high water levels in December. This led to the Park Board closing part of the Stanley Park Seawall between the Lions Gate Bridge and English Bay. It’s also worth noting that last January, that same area sustained significant damage from a king tide. 

On December 27, the Park Board tweeted: “Stanley Park Seawall improvements we’ve made to address climate emergencies, similar to last year’s storm surge, have been successful.” Thus, the city is well aware of climate change’s continuous impact on the Seawall. 

So, can our beloved Seawall survive future king tides? Sure, for a while. But at what cost? I want to preface this by saying that the Vancouver Seawall is the first part of the city I fell in love with when I moved here. It’s stunning, and I’ve run along stretches of it more times than I can count. But there’s a significant case for tearing it down. In 2019, videographer and urban planner Uytae Lee made a video explaining it for CBC

The Seawall was built to protect Stanley Park from erosion. And honestly, it does an excellent job at that. But, as Lee says, while the Seawall protects what’s behind it, it damages what is in front: seawalls are bad for the environment as they negatively impact marine life and the intertidal zone in front of them. Lee’s video includes a helpful animation that explains how the Seawall lowers sand levels in intertidal zones, causing habitat loss. 

Climate change means increasingly extreme weather, which causes more damage to the Seawall over time. In addition, rising sea levels will likely result in the wall needing to be made higher. None of this is free. The repairs from last year’s king tide cost around 1.5 million dollars. As king tides become a more frequent problem, this will be a recurring cost. Tearing down the portion of seawall around Stanley park alone to rebuild it would cost 130 million dollars. Raising the Seawall around False Creek is estimated to cost up to 850 million dollars

So, what now? At the end of his video, Lee touches on the Seawall’s prominent place in Vancouver’s identity as a city. After all, it is “the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path.” But he also acknowledges that there are other ways to create an accessible coastline that don’t include a wall. Notably, he references Ali Canning’s landscape architecture master’s thesis, where she explores new ways to interact with Vancouver’s shoreline, including boardwalks and seaside paths. We don’t need to give up enjoying the coastline, but it’s time to abandon the Seawall. 

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