Feasibility Assessment for a Proposed National Marine Conservation Area Reserve in British Columbia’s Central Coast

Backgrounder

The Government of Canada is committed to protecting and conserving Canada’s oceans for future generations by investing in nature-based solutions such as marine protected areas and other effective conservation measures. In support of biodiversity and efforts to mitigate impacts due to climate change, Canada is taking action to conserve marine and coastal waters in collaboration with Indigenous peoples, the provinces and territories, and other key partners. Canada is committed to protecting biodiversity and conserving 25 percent of marine and coastal areas by 2025, working toward 30 percent by 2030, with an approach that is grounded in science, Indigenous knowledge and local perspectives.

Under Budget 2021, an historic investment was made to protect the health of our oceans, including $976.8 million in funding over five years to reach ambitious marine conservation targets. Moving forward, the Government of Canada is committed to taking a coordinated approach to working together to protect and conserve our oceans for the benefit of all Canadians, in partnership with provincial, territorial, and Indigenous governments, while consulting with key stakeholders and coastal communities.


Description of the Region

 

The study area for the proposed national marine conservation area reserve is 14,200 square kilometres in size, and located in the coastal and offshore marine waters adjacent to the Great Bear Rainforest, on the Central Coast of British Columbia.

This region represents a large diversity of habitats and communities ranging from highly scenic fjords, long sand beaches, white shell midden beaches, archipelagos and straits, to open sea. The area encompasses a high concentration of marine mammal species, including various species at risk, and some of the largest kelp beds in British Columbia, which are important spawning areas for herring and provide critical habitat for juvenile salmon, juvenile rockfish.

For millennia, the wellbeing of the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’Xais, Nuxalk and Wuikinuxv have been linked, inextricably, to the health of the marine environment. Management and utilization of abundant marine resources, particularly salmon, eulachon and herring, supported ancient civilizations and allowed rich and complex cultures and societies to develop. Archaeologists have dated the origins of village sites on the Central Coast to as far back as 14,000 years – making them some of the oldest continually occupied sites in Canada. Pre-contact, the Central Coast supported some of the highest population concentrations in North America.

Today, community members of the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’Xais, Nuxalk and Wuikinuxv continue to honour their responsibility as caretakers of the marine environment. The life blood of the Nations’ communities comes from the existence of a network of diverse and healthy species, populations, and areas. Maintaining and restoring marine ecosystems will support not just Nations’ physical health but is inextricably connected to cultural health and continuity.

The study area for the proposed national marine conservation area reserve is adjacent to the terrestrial protection afforded by the Great Bear Rainforest. If the feasibility assessment process demonstrates support for a new national marine conservation area reserve, the potential result would be a terrestrial and marine protected area complex that would respect the indivisibility between marine and terrestrial environments inherent to Indigenous perspectives, as well protecting an intact ecosystem that could mitigate the impact of climate change. 

Under the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act and the Parks Canada Agency Act, Parks Canada’s goal is to establish a system of national marine conservation areas to protect and conserve representative examples of each of Canada’s 29 unique marine regions. The proposed study area represents the Queen Charlotte Sound marine region. The consensus among First Nations, and the governments of Canada and British Columbia on the significance of this area demonstrates the importance of considering the results of western science and Indigenous knowledge in planning new marine protected areas including national marine conservation area and national marine conservation area reserves.


National Marine Conservation Areas

Canada has over 243,000 km of coastline along three oceans and another 9,500 km along the Great Lakes - the longest coastline in the world. The vast marine ecosystems off these coasts are varied, productive - and precious. As a maritime nation, whose geography, culture and history have been shaped by this marine legacy, Canada has a responsibility to protect examples of this marine heritage for present and future generations.

National Marine Conservation Areas (NMCAs) are established and managed to protect representative examples of marine regions in Canada for the benefit, education and enjoyment of Canadians and the world.

Activities such as harvesting of renewable sources, including fishing (except for bottom trawling) and hunting, commercial shipping, marine transportation and a range of recreation and tourism activities are permitted in a national marine conservation area, if the activity does not impair the long-term health of the ecosystem.


To protect based on Indigenous Knowledge, Modern Science, and Collaborative Management

 

By working with the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, Nuxalk, and Wuikinuxv Nations to explore the feasibility of establishing a national marine conservation area reserve, the Governments of Canada and British Columbia can protect biodiversity, mitigate climate change, and strengthen relationships with Indigenous people.

The undertaking of a feasibility assessment for a national marine conservation area reserve on the Central Coast of British Columbia represents a valuable opportunity to apply the rich cultural knowledge of the local First Nation communities for the protection of an area that hosts a wide range of biodiversity and a rich Indigenous history.

Parks Canada is committed to reconciliation and working in partnerships with Indigenous peoples in the establishment and management of national marine conservation areas and national marine conservation area reserves. If the outcome of the feasibility assessment demonstrates support, Parks Canada and the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, Nuxalk, and Wuikinuxv Nations will then look to define the relationships and the roles and responsibilities in the management of a future national marine conservation area reserve. All management actions would acknowledge, respect and draw on Indigenous and scientific knowledge in an equitable and appropriate manner.


Feasibility Assessment

A feasibility assessment includes extensive consultation and is designed to help determine whether establishing a national marine conservation area reserve is both practical and desirable. The feasibility assessment provides the opportunity for partners, stakeholders and the public to contribute information and share knowledge and expertise.

The result of the feasibility assessment will inform future decisions about whether the proposal will continue and under what terms and conditions, including proposed boundaries. If the feasibility assessment process demonstrates support for a national marine conservation area reserve, establishment agreements with the concerned provincial and First Nations governments are negotiated to set out the terms and conditions under which the national marine conservation area reserve will be established and managed.


Alignment with Marine Protected Area Network Planning

A national marine conservation area reserve in the Central Coast is considered to be an important element of the potential marine protected area network being planned for the Pacific Region’s Northern Shelf Bioregion. Parks Canada, BC, and the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, Nuxalk, and Wuikinuxv Nations are partners in the development of this planned approach to marine conservation in the Northern Shelf.  Consultation on this broader network process is anticipated later in 2021 with the goal of completing the Network Action Plan by June 2022. Input from this consultation will provide important feedback for consideration in the Central Coast National Marine Conservation Area Reserve feasibility assessment process.

 


Next Steps

 

Parks Canada, the Government of British Columbia and the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, Nuxalk, and Wuikinuxv Nations will work to determine if the establishment of a proposed national marine conservation area reserve is feasible. This work will involve engagement with other government departments, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada, as they will continue to manage for marine conservation, public safety, fisheries, and shipping within the national marine conservation area reserve, if implemented.

Now that the MOU is signed, the next step is the establishment of a Steering Committee and development of a work plan to ensure that adequate studies and stakeholder consultation is undertaken to assess the socio-economic, cultural, environmental and ecosystem benefits and impacts of establishing a protected area in the Central Coast of British Columbia.

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