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Half a million Canadians live less than 5 metres above sea level: StatCan

Coast on Vancouver Island
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A growing number of people are heading to Canada's coasts to be near beaches, views and mild temperatures, a new report by Statistics Canada says.

In 2021, more than 3.2 million people on the West Coast and 2.2 million people on the East Coast lived within 10 kilometres of the shoreline, the report published Friday reads.

The population of Canada's coastal communities grew 5.3 per cent from 2016 to 2021.

The federal statistics agency says living close to ocean and coastal ecosystems “offers many advantages."

However, there is a growing concern of how the coastal communities are shrinking in size, leaving almost half a million Canadians within less than five metres above sea level.

"Communities in many coastal areas of the country are at risk from rising sea levels, especially those living in low-lying areas," the report notes.

Canadians closer than ever to the oceans

In 2021, more than twice as many people were living within less than five metres above sea level on the Pacific Coast compared to the Atlantic Coast.

 StatCan says three-quarters of the growth happened on the Pacific Coast.

Those living within one kilometre from the shoreline were evenly split between west and east, the report reads.

British Columbia's southern coastal area — between the Vancouver Island Mountains and Olympic Mountains — had the largest population growth nationally from 2016 to 2021.

Parts of the Maritime provinces — from northwestern Cumberland County to northeastern Pictou County in Nova Scotia and southern New Brunswick — accounted for the rest of the remaining increase.

But not every coastline is seeing an influx of people. The report says communities on the island of Newfoundland reported a decrease in population of almost 11,000 from 2016 to 2021.

Using nature to protect coasts

Rising sea levels from climate change highlight the need to protect the environment, especially as more people flock to coastal communities in Canada, StatCan says.

"Understanding where populations are at risk can help identify nature-based solutions where natural and modified ecosystems could be conserved or restored."  

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