Comment: Why not do more to protect the Salish Sea?

 

About this time last year, the Royals were flying over the Salish Sea to Victoria. A week-long visit as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge prepared to endorse the Great Bear Rainforest and announce the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy — uniting 53 Commonwealth members in conserving forests for future generations.

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An exceptional initiative and “gift to the world,” the rainforest fully deserves Her Majesty’s recognition. One of the largest tracts of unspoiled temperate rainforest in the world, the Great Bear Rainforest is a testimony to the environmental organizations that advanced the proposal, the First Nations and communities, and the corporate interests and governments that stepped up to the plate.

They recognized the importance of protecting 85 per cent of the forest and 70 per cent of the old growth. And they acted to protect cultural and natural heritage, freshwater, ecosystems and wildlife habitat.

The month before, August 2016, the province of B.C. and 17 First Nations of the north coast signed Marine Planning Partnership agreements. Along the way to the partnership and the rainforest, 114 conservancies and 21 biodiversity, mining and tourism areas were established.

About this time last year, the whole world was watching.

Justly proud, the B.C. government developed a website about the Great Bear Rainforest, and how the public could get involved, gov.bc.ca/greatbearrainforest. We’re told that in the rainforest, an ecosystem-based management approach was instituted, based on science as well as traditional and local knowledge.

“The North Coast and Central Coast regions of B.C. are unique because of the highly diverse plant, animal, and marine life and the equally diverse geography and climate.”

Make no mistake. It’s fabulous that the Great Bear Rainforest and the Marine Planning Partnership are protecting places that most of us will never have the opportunity to explore. We know those places are glorious, and worth every effort to set aside for the visitors, communities and peoples fortunate enough, and brave enough, to challenge the elements or eke out a living in the great wild of the mid and north coasts of British Columbia.

But what about the nine million Canadians and Americans who will be living in and around the Salish Sea by 2025? Our Canadian waters are about 15 per cent the size of the GBR and Marine Planning Partnership, but efforts to engage us in similar solutions for the south coast are fragmented and sadly lacking.

The Salish Sea, the economic and ecological heart of the B.C. coast, is the home of an ancient and proud 10,000-year-old Coast Salish culture. And home to 3,000 marine species. Shouldn’t there be consultations and a proportional investment of resources here, protections and respect for the cultural and natural heritage that extends all the way back to the ice age?

As a young biology student recently said to me, this is a place where culture, both native and otherwise, abounds, where innovative and collaborative solutions are needed to meet complex environmental challenges, where there are incomparable natural resources, and where unique linkages between land and sea exist.

Here we are, I was told, on the shores of an utterly unique and precious ecosystem of staggering complexity and incredible beauty. We have a huge gift and responsibility, and we don’t have a plan. The things our youth say, eh? Makes you wonder.

On Oceans Day, June 8, 2016, as the Marine Planning Partnership and rainforest were being rolled out for all the world to see, Catherine McKenna, minister of environment and climate change, pledged to keep a promise, to protect 10 per cent of the country’s coast by 2020.

“Canada has unparalleled ocean and freshwater resources, and protecting our waters is critical to the lives and livelihoods of all Canadians. Our government is committed to preserving and expanding marine protected areas … we will achieve our government’s ambitious targets for protecting marine and coastal areas.”

And here we are, late 2017, with world-class ocean all around us, on the shores of a dilemma, waiting.

Maybe this fall, when the Oceans Protection Act, Fisheries Act and Canada’s heritage are deliberated and debated in the House of Commons, we should ask our elected representatives about their priorities.

Why not the Salish Sea?

 

Laurie Gourlay is interim director of the Salish Sea Trust.

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