The boundaries are drawn for a new marine conservation area in the Salish Sea.
Sea and soil from Gabriola Island to Cordova Bay and deep into the Saanich Inlet create the tentative boundary agreed on by the provincial and federal governments for the Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area Reserve.
“After years of studying the magnificent diversity of the southern Strait of Georgia, today we can say with confidence that we have reached a significant milestone,” said Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent.
Kent alongside B.C. Minister of Environment Terry Lake, announced the agreement that moves the project into the next phase during a press conference at the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre on Oct. 13.
“This proposed National Marine Conservation Marine Area Reserve will completely surround the newly created Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, ensuring ecosystem protection on both land and water in the southern Strait of Georgia,” Kent said.
The proposed boundary encompasses 14,000 square kilometres of ocean habitat that extends from the southern tip of Gabriola Island into Saanich Inlet and down to Cordova Bay.
“It’s important that we have an area put aside on the West Coast of Canada that we protect,” agreed Murray Coell, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, who kick started the stalled process when he served as B.C. Minister of Environment prior to Lake. “We’ve done that with the national park on the Gulf Islands, and now we’re doing it with a reserve in the oceans, and I think that future generations will be very glad we did.”
The Strait of Georgia is among the most productive marine ecosystems in the world due to fresh water from the Fraser River mixing with the ocean waters flooding through Juan de Fuca and Haro Straits. The area is home to some of Canada’s iconic marine animals such as orca whales, salmon and seals.
“British Columbia is committed to marine protection in the southern Strait of Georgia, and designation as a marine conservation area will provide for permanent and rigorous environmental protection,” Lake said. “It’s important that our decision reflects the needs of the public, and the communities and First Nations nearby, as well as the need for continued protection of this ecosystem.”
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) also celebrated the announcement.
“The announcement today by the governments of Canada and British Columbia represents a good step forward in creating more national marine conservation areas in Canada’s precious coastal waters,” said Sabine Jessen, national manager, Oceans and Great Freshwater Lakes for CPAWS.
“In June we called on the federal government to create 12 new marine protected areas by the end of 2012. The southern Strait of Georgia was high on our list, so this is really great news.”
The Strait of Georgia is one of 29 marine regions that Parks Canada aims to represent as part of the national marine conservation area system.
South of that Strait of Georgia marine region is the still tentative Rack Rocks marine protected area, which falls under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
“Protecting a body of water doesn’t mean guarding it from Canadians,” Kent said. “Our goal in creating national marine conservation areas is to harmonize conservation practices with other valuable activities such as fishing or shipping and of course recreation. It is that type of harmonious use we hope to see here in the southern Strait of Georgia.”
With the proposed boundary in place, the federal and provincial government will begin further in-depth consultations with First Nations.
If deemed practical and desirable, the two governments would then negotiate an agreement for the establishment of a national marine conservation area. Parks Canada would then co-ordinate an interim management plan with input from First Nations, stakeholders and the public.
The interim management plan would guide the management of the national marine conservation area for five years and is a required step before establishment can proceed.
Finally, Parks Canada would recommend to parliament the protection of the area under the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act.