Editorial: South coast needs a marine conservation area, too

South coast needs a marine conservation area, too
Laurie Gourlay / Times Colonist NMCA - gov't's proposed boundary, map, S Strait of Georgia, f'12
May 17, 2015
Congratulations are due the First Nations and B.C. government for finding the will and the way to expedite an agreement that helps protect 102,000 square kilometres of the mid- and northern B.C. coast.

The Marine Planning Partnership is an impressive step forward in sustainably managing about two-thirds of our coastline. But it raises the question: What about our southern coast?

One-third of our West Coast marine waters, harbours and ocean-going transportation routes are not covered by the northern-oriented MaPP agreement. This despite two decades of talks that have repeatedly promised a marine protection area here in the south.

Promised and repromised by our federal and provincial governments for more than 20 years, the proposed National Marine Conservation Area for the southern Strait of Georgia is, we’re told, on hold until all First Nations are on board.

But is this just an excuse? In the four years since its inception, the MaPP managed to negotiate a working agreement with 18 First Nations in the entire mid- and north coast. So why can’t we do this in a much smaller area of the south coast, given two decades of talk?

Are our governments really trying to reach an agreement? The steady decay and withdrawal of provincial and federal environmental regulations and enforcement makes you wonder if there is political will to actually see our southern coastal waters protected?

Predicting that the MaPP agreement will “change the way we all do business,” the president of the Haida Nation, Peter Lantin, might have inadvertently identified our south coast problem: “You have to have the conservation piece in place first before you do the economics.”

And since we don’t, then why are we so hell-bent on fast-tracking economic plans here in the south? Who’s dragging their feet on conservation, and what can be done to reboot marine-protection plans?

We have a densely populated southern coastal region, with fragmented and inadequate planning throughout the Salish Sea. And we have poorly co-ordinated and underfunded agencies that can’t effectively undertake cleanups in the maritime transportation routes, harbours and anchorages of our strait.

Without a MaPP here in the south, or an NMCA to buffer and revitalize our ocean ecosystems and habitat, we’re inevitably going to see an increasing and incremental deterioration of the world-class marine environment right outside our back door.

Some of us — a majority, if you believe the polls — think Canada’s oceans and seas should be protected. We think the lack of resources and political will to fast-track an NMCA for the southern Strait of Georgia, or to at least put a southern MaPP in place in the interim, is unacceptable.

Shameful, if you consider the economic, historic, cultural and natural benefits that are being lost by not having marine-conservation agreements and protected areas in place.

Our fishing industry, tourism and recreation opportunities, and our quality of life are slowly but surely being degraded as a result, just as our coastal communities and traditional ways are being impoverished by this failed and inadequate NMCA and marine protection process.

When the federal government unilaterally withdrew from the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area plan in 2011, the B.C. government and First Nations rolled up their sleeves and started MaPP. A few years later, we have a big success.

Here in the south, the federal government’s excuses are as plentiful and prolific as our salmon streams once were. And the apparent reluctance of our provincial government to step in and protect our waters and marine life suggest they too would rather not see conservation measures get in the way of other less talked-about agendas.

With Canada’s 150th birthday just around the corner, it is still possible to make amends. We could honour our maritime promises to the world, respect our ocean heritage and secure rich coastal seas with productive fisheries and a dynamic future that is the envy of all. We could redouble efforts to establish a marine conservation area. Benefits and beauty would be balanced with sustainability and development.

And who knows? With a little leadership, perhaps we might even consider joining our southern and northern waters together, maybe agree to protect and manage the entire B.C. coastline.

Now there’s a birthday gift worthy of Canadian values and foresight.


Laurie Gourlay is president of the Vancouver Island and Coast Conservation Society.

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