Column: A national marine conservation area: closer than you might think

Cowichan Valley Citizen

Fourteen years ago, the governments of British Columbia and Canada signed an agreement to start the process of establishing a national marine conservation area in the southern Straight of Georgia in the Salish Sea. Earlier this month, I was very happy to host a public open house in Duncan with Parks Canada about where we are at in this process. Although managed by Parks Canada, national marine conservation areas are slightly different than national parks. Unlike national parks with semi-closed ecosystems where the major aspects are relatively permanent and immobile, marine protected areas are incredibly open ecosystems that include dynamic ecological processes. They are also bound by international maritime law and serve a variety of important economic functions. A national marine conservation area wouldn’t end responsible commercial fishing or marine transportation. It also wouldn’t stop marine industries and industries located on the coast. It shouldn’t. We need those jobs to continue our coastal way of life. A national marine conservation area would, however, be able to better manage marine and coastal habitats so that we can leave the ocean better than how we found it. It would also stop any oil and gas exploration and development in our fragile marine ecosystem. A national marine conservation area would continue to foster the tourism industry in our region. Eco-tourism opportunities would increase and allow visitors and residents alike more access and infrastructure to explore this magical and unique area of the world. Establishing a national marine conservation area is an understandably slow process. There are a lot of needs and interests that must be taken into account. The southern Straight of Georgia is one of the most active waterways in Canada. There are 19 First Nations with potential interests in the proposed area. The area includes more than 1,000 land tenures that need to be individually assessed. Some people are frustrated with the pace of progress on this project. Others don’t believe it will ever come to fruition. I think a national marine conservation area in the southern Straight of Georgia has never been closer to becoming a reality. There are some incredibly dedicated Parks Canada staff working on this project. Consultations are ongoing on how we can overcome all obstacles. The closer we get to establishing this conservation area, the stronger particular interests may become in trying to put up roadblocks. Strong political will and vocal community support may be necessary to finally make this idea a reality. There are only currently four national marine conservation areas in Canada. I hope we can add a fifth very soon. By Alistair MacGregor - published October 27th, 2017 in the Cowichan Valley Citizen