Gwaii Haanas

On June 7 of this year, the Canadian government tabled (for a subsequent vote) an agreement that establishes a Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site in B.C.’s Gwaii Haanas (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands). Following 25 years of discussion between the government and the Haida Nation, a co-managed interim management plan has been agreed upon.

Queen CharlottesAs WWF Canada reports, National Marine Conservation Areas aim to protect marine ecosystems while allowing the area to be used in ecologically sustainable ways.  To date, the Gwaii Haanas has been poorly managed, with a noticeable lack of consideration for ecological, cultural, and social values.  The new Reserve will be co-managed with Parks Canada, Fisheries & Oceans Canada, and the Haida Nation, as well as local stakeholders.

DolphinThe Gwaii Haanas is an important area ecologically, with over 3,000 species in a fairly untouched area.  Gray and humpback whales, sea lions, dolphins and other mammals migrate through the area which is home to a variety of fish, seabirds and other marine life.

This particular area has been faced with rapidly declining numbers of sea life ranging from herring to prawns.  However, after years of discussion between the Haida Nation and the Government, they have finally come to an agreement that will close approximately three percent of this area to fishing, as reported by the Times Colonist.  As progress continues, environmental groups hope that these no-fishing areas will be expanded.

Saltspring IslandParks Canada reports that the National Marine Reserve and Heritage Site will preserve approximately ten kilometres off the Reserve’s shore.   In combination with the preexisting national reserve, the conservation area will set out to protect more than 5,000 square kilometres ranging from mountaintops to deep sea.

The shared responsibility model in Gwaii Haanas is unique in its effort to treat land and sea as a single system.  As such, it provides a role model for other conservation and sustainability agreements across North America.

Also, as WWF suggests, our oceans are exposed to a triple threat consisting of poor management, overexploitation, and climate change.  These are the primary causes for the reduction in the number of fish to what is believed to be beneath a sustainable level, which has negative impacts on coastal communities.  The Gwaii Haanas agreement represents a trickle of hope for renewal and sustainability in our oceans.  Now we are left to hope that the success of this National Marine Conservation Area will spur the development of many more!

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