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World Heritage Site designation sought for Saanich Peninsula's Salish Sea

An image of a sea lion by photographer Cristina Mittermeier, a co-founder of SeaLegacy. - SeaLegacy
An image of a sea lion by photographer Cristina Mittermeier, a co-founder of SeaLegacy.
— image credit: SeaLegacy

Long-time B.C. resident Laurie Gourlay nominated the Salish Sea for consideration as a World Heritage Site for many reasons, which he referenced to wearethesalishsea.eco.

“It talks about 7,500 kilometres of coastline, 3,000 species in the Salish Sea … and then there’s 113 threatened species, including glass sponge, reefs and the like and they are some of the oldest and most unique species on the planet, right here in the Salish Sea,” said Gourlay, the director of the Salish Sea Trust.

The application went into the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at the end of January.

It will be just one of many applications that will be looked at over the course of this year and will be announced at the end of the year by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Gourlay first nominated the Salish Sea when he heard of the opportunity last August.

Vancouver Island and Coast Society were doing work around the National Marine Conservation proposal in the Gulf Islands and they were looking at the buffer that’s needed around the marine area that’s being proposed.

“We were really recognizing the need for larger protective measures for all of the Salish Sea and then this opportunity arose with the World Heritage site …” he said, adding that it has all the characteristics and benefits they would love to see implemented.

Gourlay said having the Salish Sea designated as a World Heritage Site would mean a huge economic boost for the province.

“Every World Heritage Site around the world is receiving large numbers of visitors, folks who recognize the outstanding universal value that it represents,” said Gourlay.

He said it’s also about them wanting to see for themselves the beauty or the cultural and natural assets that are profiled.

“We would be establishing a basis for protection of our World Heritage and then that would boost a lot of businesses that are supportive of a service as well as a professional demographic that would be interested in living close to a place that is so beautiful, that is protected in the like and that would begin to establish business interest.”

The application put forward by Gourlay was pulled together with the help of Salish Sea residents and neighbours along with National Geographic Photographers and Salish Sea residents Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen.

They are also founders of SeaLegacy, an organization dedicated to supporting grassroots movements to establish or enhance marine protections.

Gourlay said the Salish Sea as a World Heritage Site would see a long term sustainable development there and that’s what they’ve based their application around. They see the application, he said, as reflecting sustainable development opportunities in the Salish Sea.

“We have 10,000 years of Coast Salish and they come from a background where they love the nature, where nature was part of everything they do … and then we’ve got the colonists who’ve come from Europe, who come from a dominion over nature,” he said adding that both look at challenging future difficulties like climate change, resource depletion and biodiversity decline.

He said the Salish Sea Trust is looking at sustainable development as the opportunity to bring all of those interests together.

Gourlay said we need to be protecting the special places and species in the Salish Sea, one of which is the Southern Resident Orca whales.

He said they’ve also seen a growing interest by First Nations who set aside a place in Haidi Gwaii for a World Heritage Site designation. There’s also been renewed interest in the Arctic, as well as in the Manitoba and Saskatchewan border who have put forward similar World Heritage Site proposals.

“So there’s an opportunity for that reconciliation and healing to take place as we gain partnership with First Nations,” said Gourlay.

As of Feb. 14 the Salish Sea Trust put out letters to First Nations and local governments asking for their support and consent.

“This is heritage week as well and we have just written to all of the MP’s as they are in session and supported a heritage bill, but this is for the built environment they have at this point …” he said, adding that they’d like to remind them of the culture and natural heritage they have in Canada.

With Canadian Heritage Day coming up on Feb. 20, Gourlay said it’s a good time for them to voice their support. They will also approach Members of Legislative Assembly.

“We want to both invite that support across all sectors, provide the information and then to encourage consideration of all the assets, all the things that the World Heritage Site could bring to this area.”

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