The Nanaimo River estuary is the largest estuary on Vancouver Island and is a very significant regional feature. It is also a highly productive biological system, particularly in terms of the intertidal plant life, fish, shellfish, and bird species supported. The first known inhabitants were the Snuneymuxw First Nation (SEN or Snuneymuxw), to whom the Nanaimo River estuary is still an important spiritual and traditional use area. The estuary is also surrounded by the rapidly growing population of the Nanaimo area. The estuary is used extensively for log storage as well as recreation. Over the next few decades, the challenge will be to restore the productivity and diversity of this ecosystem with consideration for social and economic benefits to the community.
Prior to this Nanaimo Estuary Management Plan (NEMP), various studies had been undertaken within the Nanaimo estuary, but no integrated process to consider all resources and involve all interests had occurred. Triggered by the impending expiration of a head lease from the Province to the Nanaimo Port Authority, a number of organizations came together to initiate preparation of an overall management plan for the Nanaimo Estuary that would encompass all human activities and uses. The planning process began in February 2002. It was conducted by an interdisciplinary team of consultants guided by a multi-interest Steering Committee (SC). The planning process involvqd many SC meetings, communication through the media and a Web site, and two public sessions.
Scientifically, the Nanaimo River Estuary covers a large marine area, with its influence extending into Departure Bay and surrounding channels. However, given the time constraints of the project, the SC decided to focus on the immediate estuary first, and to save the larger area for a later phase of work.