Let’s get it together

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

THE NORTH Coast of BC is one of my favourite places. If you visit this spectacular and ecologically diverse region, you’ll see mountains, forests, oceans, sea lions, puffins and whales. If you are fortunate enough to dive into the ocean, you’ll see salmon, herring, rockfish, sea anemones, giant scallops, kelp forests, and – deep below – 9,000-year-old glass-sponge reefs.

It’s absurd to think that we could manage our activities in such a vast and complex area by having different government departments oversee individual activities in isolation. But that’s pretty much the way we’ve been doing things.

Fortunately, people are beginning to talk about a new way of managing our oceans, a way that’s being tested in five large ocean areas in Canada. One of these areas is the North Coast of BC, in a region stretching from northern Vancouver Island to the BC-Alaska border, which the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has labelled the “Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area,” or PNCIMA.

The DFO is attempting to engage an integrated management planning process here, in part based on the recognition that everything in nature is interconnected, including human activity. For years, many scientists, resource managers and environmentalists have encouraged government to adopt an ecosystem-based management, or EBM, approach that takes into account all values and interests.

The Federal government’s planning processes in the Beaufort Sea, Gulf of St. Lawrence, Eastern Scotian Shelf, Placentia Bay/Grand Banks and Pacific North Coast could set an example for the EBM approach in all of Canada’s oceans. Until now, there’s been more talk than action.

PNCIMA’s integrated management planning process has recently seen some significant breakthroughs, though. In December, DFO signed a formal governance agreement with First Nations in the area to move forward with a marine planning process. And in late March, more than 380 people – including representatives from government, First Nations, coastal communities, marine industries and non-governmental organizations – took part in a two-day forum to discuss management and conservation options for the region.

That so many people from so many walks of life and so many communities were able to come together to discuss the needs of this area shows not just that cooperation is possible, but also that everyone understands the need for urgent action to protect the health of our oceans.

As with most processes involving a multitude of resources, interests and ecological values, government must continue to play a leading role. Even more importantly, our government must provide enough money for scientific research to ensure that decisions are made according to the best local and scientific knowledge.

We don’t have a lot of time to waste. Many ocean ecosystems are at tipping points, with pollution, resource extraction and industrial impacts contributing to declines in fish, mammal, and other marine-life populations. Add to that the uncertainty about the effects climate change is having on these ecosystems and the need for planning becomes even more urgent.

A credible, long-term plan for any ocean region must include an increase in protected areas where specific types of industrial activity are limited. Canada has the longest coastline of any nation on Earth and 40 percent of our jurisdictional area is ocean, yet the federal government has set aside less than one percent of that as marine protected areas.

I hope governments, First Nations and other interested people will continue the formal dialogue, scientific research and relationship building required to ensure we have intelligent management and conservation in our oceans. I believe most people understand that our own health depends on the health of ocean ecosystems.

I encourage everyone in Canada who cares about the future health of our oceans to let the government know that we want a greater investment in science, management, and conservation so that our oceans stand a fighting chance in an all too uncertain future. For more information, visit www.healthyoceans.ca/

Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

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