Marine Ecosystem Reference Guide

collaborative management

What is MERG?

MERG is the foundation for promoting ecosystem based decision-making.

As a decision support tool, MERG includes over 200 layers of scientific, traditional and local knowledge in an interactive format that can be used to proactively assess conflicts and compatibilities between values and uses in the marine environment.

Who Can Benefit from Using MERG?

  • Governments to ensure that decision making is ecosystem based and inclusive of cultural, ecological, social and recreational values;
  • First Nations when assessing potential impacts to aboriginal rights during referral management/consultation;
  • Industry to identify appropriate areas for economic development to take place;
  • Academia to access regional information about potential study sites, and to have an online platform where research results can be geospatially referenced; and
  • Anyone interested in learning more about activities and values in the region, and foster a culture of stewardship.

 What is the Status of MERG's Development?

While MERG has not officially been launched, it is available for use. Knowledge layers are being updated as new information becomes available. Minor edits are being made to the interactive platform, and detailed 'User Help Guides' are being created. These guides will be linked to the site as they are completed.

Final testing is scheduled for Jan./Feb. 2018. Watch for our launch announcement shortly after that!

Looking Forward

We've had incredible feedback on MERG so far, so we're excited to expand its geographic scope beyond Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds. Development on the Nitinat, Nootka, and Kyuquot area will commence in 2018.


We are grateful for the generous financial contribution of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Without their support, this tool would not have been possible.

We would also like to thank the many individuals, organizations, and communities within the WCVI region who shared their knowledge and stories with us. You represent the beauty, diversity and richness of this place we call home.


Try MERG Here!

User Guides are available within the MERG site or you can access them here:



Everyone has a role to play in developing and maintaining the health and wealth of our coastal resources and communities.


Marine Ecosystem
Reference Guide

How Was MERG Developed?

From 2010 to 2014, West Coast Aquatic and partners worked to gather information concerning local environments and natural resources, economies, social systems and different uses and activities in the Barkley and Clayoquot Sound regions. The goal was to develop a product that would support integrated, ecosystem-based management on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Through interviews, meetings, online surveys and public events, West Coast Aquatic has gathered over 200 data layers from many different communities, groups and individuals, representing a comprehensive body of traditional, local, and scientific knowledge. The result of these efforts is the Marine Ecosystem Reference Guide (MERG).

Within MERG, each Sound has been delineated into marine units, or ‘neighbourhoods’, that are based on existing administrative boundaries, biophysical characteristics and common uses and activities. The characteristics of each marine unit contributes to a description of its suitability for various uses and activities, and its vulnerability to a variety of stressors. Recommendations for each marine unit have been driven by a number of factors including an assessment of the area’s ecology, any potential conflicts between uses, emerging economic opportunities, and extensive public input on values and trade-offs.

West Coast Aquatic partnered with researchers at Stanford University to help inform the recommendations. Using a tool called Marine InVEST, different scenarios for development within an area were looked at and the potential trade-offs were identified. The intent was to achieve a much greater sense of how the region’s economies can develop and grow without sacrificing the environment, recreation or culture.

West Coast Aquatic also used Marxan, a conservation planning decision support tool. Marxan helped identify areas of high conservation value, while taking into consideration areas that are important to human uses and activities, and avoiding conflicts between the two. Within MERG, Ecologically Significant Areas have been mapped as an outcome of this analysis.

Sector review sessions were held through 2015, and public review sessions were held in the spring of 2016. Final edits were made based on the input received. Esri has developed the online platform through which map layers will be available for interactive viewing. MERG is being tested by our partners, and will be fully launched early in 2018.

Implementation of MERG will involve West Coast Aquatic working closely with all levels of government, communities and businesses. Training sessions will be provided so the full value of MERG’s information can be utilized. Discussions will also continue to explore how MERG can be used to support initiatives such as planning, policy development, conservation, economic development, research, and public education.

Information within MERG will be regularly expanded and updated, and a scheduled review process will ensure that recommendations are still relevant, and use designations are adapted as appropriate.