What Does Marine Protection Look Like in the Great Bear Rainforest?

Nov 7, 2018
Krista Roessingh

The Great Bear Rainforest is a unique environment fed by the sea, by the salmon that spawn in thousands of streams and rivers, and by the rains that the ocean brings to its forests and wetlands. Communities in this coastal maze of inlets, islands, and mountains are nourished by the ocean. First Nations cultures have thrived here since time immemorial depending on a diet of  fish, marine mammals, seaweed, and shellfish, which they carefully managed.

The sea is not what it once was. It is hard to imagine what it was like beyond two hundred years ago, when the many people living here practiced sustainable management and the ocean teemed with abundance. Ocean conditions are changing quickly due to global warming – salmon stocksare dwindling and harvests of other species are becoming less reliable as the pressures of climate change pile in with widespreadover-exploitation anddamage to habitat

The sea is not what it once was. It is hard to imagine what it was like beyond two hundred years ago, when the many people living here practiced sustainable management and the ocean teemed with abundance.

Seventeen First Nations are working with the Federal and Provincial governments to put aside parts of the Central, North Coast, and Haida Gwaii, in a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). These areas could protect biodiversity and cultural values ensuring humans, communities and all the ocean’s species have a better chance of surviving here for the long-term.

It takes a lot of research, consultation, planning, collaboration, and negotiation to reach the point of creating an MPA. Research from around the world has shown that for an MPA or MPA network to work to protect and restore biodiversity and improve fish stocks, it needs to be largely off-limits to extraction and harmful activities, and properly managed and enforced for at least 10 years. It also needs to be supported and protected by the communities near to it.

Until now, Canada’s laws for creating MPAs have had no minimum protection standards. This means that every use--oil and gas exploration, industrial-scale fisheries, open-net pen fish farms, and tanker traffic--is potentially allowed in an MPA. There has been no legal requirement in our laws governing the establishment of MPAs for Indigenous participation in planning and governance.

A panel of experts called together by the Federal Government has been hearing from Canadians about what minimum standards are needed in MPA legislation, and has now made a set of recommendations to the Minister for Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard.The report asks the Minister to:

“Recognize the importance of Indigenous peoples’ roles as full partners in all aspects of design, management, and decision-making around marine protected areas, Indigenous Protected Areas, and other effective area-based conservation measures;” and

“Adopt International Union for the Conservation of Nature standards and guidelines for all marine protected areas, therefore prohibiting industrial activities such as oil and gas exploration and exploitation, mining, dumping, and bottom trawling.

Please write to the Minister and to your MP to encourage the speedy adoption of these standards so that all new MPAs, like the ones being planned for the Great Bear Rainforest, are truly safe havens for marine life that can sustain coastal communities and cultures. You can find more information and a letter template here.

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