Dear Islands Trust Council,
Recent remarks in the media have suggested that Islands Trust may be reluctant to support our request for an extension of the proposed National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA) Reserve for the Southern Strait of Georgia. The Mid-Island Sustainability and Stewardship Initiative (MISSI) remains hopeful however that the Gabriola Island coastal waters, and Nanaimo River estuary, will be included when a final decision is made on the boundaries later this year – and that many important economic and ecological benefits will follow for the mid island.
The reason for the Islands Trust reluctance apparently comes from concern that the declaration of the NMCA may be delayed should our extension proposal be considered.
By way of background we should let you know that MISSI members have been participating in discussions about the NMCA since 2002. The conditions, and demands that first set such deliberations in motion have changed a great deal since. Over these years however, we have received reassurances from Parks Canada that public meetings would be held in Nanaimo, to consider boundaries, as well as ecological, social, and economic factors.
Prior to this, in the 1980s, it was my personal good fortune to be in a position to put forward recommendations that the lands and waters of the southern Gulf Islands be declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. My understanding is that this proposal contributed to the authority granted to the Islands Trust, as well as leading to the designation of the present Southern Gulf Islands National Park.
We’re sure you will agree that these two outcomes, although not anticipated, have greatly contributed to the bottom-line ecological and economic attributes of the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island, as well as the mainland coast. They were worth asking for, and the cooperative efforts of many sectors and interests ensured their success.
Although some organisations believed, at that time, that the request for a UNESCO designation was too great to consider for the southern Gulf Islands, we are pleased to see that in fact federal, provincial, and regional aspirations have been furthered overall.
MISSI believes the same is true with our proposal for an extension of the NMCA: that, including important and productive coastal waters around Gabriola Island and the Nanaimo River estuary will bring substantive economic benefits to the local area and larger region.
As well as restoring our fisheries, encouraging tourism, and meeting commercial, industrial port requirements, the protection of the high ecological and cultural values of this estuary, the largest on Vancouver Island, promises long-term sustainability for the mid island as well as the Gulf Islands.
In fact MISSI believes it is both a reasonable and responsible request for this extension, given the pressures on marine and coastal ecosystems that have taken place since the NMCA was first proposed ten years ago.
With increasing development of the region and strait, and strategic plans underway to accommodate growth and population projections for the mid-island, we believe there is a greater need to ensure that representative and intact ecological systems and habitat corridors are designated to help protect unique coastal lands and marine areas.
MISSI would then like to assure Islands Trust Council, as well as all residents of the southern Strait of Georgia, that we do not want to stand in the way of progress. We very much regard the designation of the NMCA to be a substantial contribution to the long-term conservation and sustainable development goals of our west coast region.
We will therefore be writing to both the federal and provincial Ministers of the Environment, to follow up on their assurances that meetings will be held in Nanaimo – and to ask if MISSI’s request for an extension of the NMCA, into the Nanaimo River estuary, may delay the designation.
Should the Ministers suggest that our proposed boundary extension may unnecessarily delay the NMCA designation we are prepared to withdraw our request at this time, and will seek other means to ensure such protection and conservation measures.
However, if the ministers assure us that the process remains open, that determination of the final boundaries will not lead to a delay in the designation of the NMCA, then we would ask that the Islands Trust Council in turn support our campaign for the extension around Gabriola Island and into the Nanaimo River estuary.
And, we would request that the Islands Trust Council prioritise a motion to the upcoming Union of BC Municipalities convention to amend support for the original NMCA boundaries to include the Gabriola coastal waters and the Nanaimo estuary extension.
Given recent interest by Nanaimo City Council in the NMCA extension proposal, and related opportunities to protect the Nanaimo River watershed, we hope that the Islands Trust will reconsider any hesitance they may have initially had in lending support.
Should it be of assistance, MISSI has prepared background reports and an overview of the benefits, as well as a presentation on our proposal to extend the NMCA a few kilometres more, to include the coastal waters of Gabriola Island and the Nanaimo River estuary.
We sincerely hope that this letter helps to clarify MISSI’s position, and rationale for requesting an extension to the proposed NMCA. And we look forward to working with the Islands Trust Council, and others, on mid island initiatives for sustainability and stewardship.
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