Comment: Bold moves needed to preserve the Salish Sea

Even if twinning the Kinder-Morgan pipeline doesn’t go ahead, the Salish Sea will not be saved — unless something bold, principled and practical is done, and soon.

The endangered southern resident Orca whales, the depleting fisheries of Puget Sound, the sewage dumps into Juan de Fuca Strait, the toxic leachates from old mineshafts and coal-storage pits along the Island’s east coast, and the plans that would see industrial sites such as an LNG plant located in Howe Sound: these all point to incremental destruction. As it stands now a long, slow death awaits the Salish Sea.

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To save the Salish Sea we need a concerted effort: an expert commission to co-ordinate trans-boundary planning and consultations, address plans for climate change, fisheries and aquaculture, and ensure the protection of coastal habitat and marine ecosystems.

If we were smart, thinking long-term, we’d be asking federal and provincial leaders what they’re doing to protect the health of the Salish Sea and the ecosystems we’re dependent upon.

Our premier believes that B.C. will receive more than half of the $1.5 billion the feds just committed to marine protection for the country over the next five years. We could politely ask for at least half of our West Coast share to go to saving the health, habitat and biodiversity of the Salish Sea, especially as we’re being asked to bear the brunt of the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and increased tanker traffic.

Over the past dozen years and more, we’ve lost our Navigable Waters Act, fisheries protections, and commitment to environmental-assessment policies and procedures. And one wonders about the remaining regulations when monitoring and enforcement are in such a threadbare state these days.

This as the U.S. and State of Washington commit another $600 million to the health and restoration of Puget Sound, and create a federal task force for their half of the Salish Sea with similar mandate to that of the International Joint Commission, which oversees the Great Lakes.

Identifying the existing and potential uses appropriate to ecosystem and local needs, the province of B.C. signed a less-auspicious but nonetheless important agreement with First Nations of the mid and north coast in July. That raises the question: Why no similar consultations, stakeholder meetings, commissions and blue-ribbon panels considering how best to protect the health of our Salish Sea?

In September, Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced a new national plan to protect our country’s marine areas. To be shared over five years, along all of Canada’s 200,000-kilometre coastline, the $81-million commitment is presumably part of the $1.5-billion November announcement by the prime minister. That suggests that only 5.4 per cent will be directed to marine protected areas, with the remaining $1.19 billion for marine safety and spill response.

The devil’s in the details, but you have to wonder about priorities. Right now only one per cent of the longest coastline in the world is set aside in marine protected areas. It’s great to know that there are fabulous, healthy, biodiverse and ecologically-sound places such as the Great Bear Rainforest set aside up the coast. But what about here where most of us live, work and play?

Shouldn’t there be as much of a commitment to ensuring that the vast majority of residents of the West Coast have their best interests and local environments protected?

It could be, with a 2017 legacy in mind and nominations open as of Christmas, that the Salish Sea is awaiting designation as a World Heritage Site, with all the historical, cultural and natural prestige and protections that affords. And, along with an International Joint Commission of our own, and First Nation co-management, which works so well in Washington, the Salish Sea could be the model for reconciliation and healing that Canadians are looking for.

A new year brings new hope for the future. Here on the shores of the Salish Sea, there are many good reasons to protect our homes, to save the health and biodiversity of world-class marine heritage out our back door. I can’t think of a single reason to sacrifice it.


Laurie Gourlay is interim director of the Salish Sea Trust.

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