The Salish Sea is under scrutiny for a once in a decade opportunity — to be considered as a World Heritage Site.

UNESCO sets sights on the Salish Sea

The Salish Sea is under scrutiny for a once in a decade opportunity — to be considered as a World Heritage Site.

The Salish Sea is under scrutiny for a once in a decade opportunity — to be considered as a World Heritage Site.

Interim Director with the Salish Sea Trust Laurie Gourlay put forward a proposal for a biosphere reserve on the Gulf Islands back in the mid 1980s, and has paid attention as things moved along.

Gourlay and The Salish Sea Trust were pleased with a decision this summer that the federal government would proceed with the Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA) and start discussion.

“Within that, we had moved forward in terms of outreach and discussions about needs for protection and so we were looking at the Salish Sea. And then the prime minister in early August announced that he would welcome World Heritage Site applications,” he told the News Review.

When they reviewed those processes and criteria they realized they were complementary in one manner to the NMCA. It was very similar, he said, in terms of the Parks Canada criteria, goals and support of First Nation interest and heritage, and the marine interest.

They then thought if it is a World Heritage Site as they see it, they should apply as it’s one opportunity every 10 years that UNESCO invites applications. And there are many benefits of the Salish Sea being considered a World Heritage Site.

“One report after another suggests that tourism benefits are outstanding once such designation comes into play or even the application is heard. There’s a lot of interest generated and it boosts all of the local businesses and economy and of course recreational aspects here in the Salish Sea,” said Gourlay.

An indirect interest, he said, which tends to attract professionals, suggest that individuals looking for yachting, sailing, hiking and wilderness adventure are attracted to areas protecting those aspects. World Heritage Sites are historical, cultural, natural sites protected as outstanding in universal value.

“So that brings in the businesses that those professionals are working on, and it then leads to a dynamic that creates a sustainable development,” he said. “So you’re working with a  business community and natural and cultural values, and it’s working in a balanced manner which is productive for everyone.”

The Trust has been in discussion with the province in terms of the Cascadia Innovation Corridor that the premier and governor of the state of Washington recently announced.

“We have an application that’s groundbreaking, really innovative that’s looking at ways to encourage meaningful consultation and to compare documents across all sectors and interests. So that allows a very good means to identify the ways by which you should manage an area like the Salish Sea to protect all of those assets it has, and the new application we’re proposing is almost at demonstration stage,” said Gourlay.

He said that will also offer some economic opportunities should they get it up and rolling as it ties into that Cascadia Innovation Corridor and interest by Washington and B.C. to encourage start-up computer, and the like, applications.

“So we think we have a product that’s going to be both applicable here for the Salish Sea — very useful and helpful, and then that will be exportable, if you will, around North America and the world because of the interest in marine protected areas and ocean protection measures. So we’re quite excited about the possibilities that are coming up,” he said.

The Trust plans to send letters out to all the local governments and organizations seeking their support, along with First Nations.

Gourlay said everyone who’s living along the Salish Sea can write letters, supporting the idea of the Salish Sea as a World Heritage Site.

The deadline is December for Parks Canada review, January for the UNESCO application and April to submit support letters. A committee is also working on a biosphere reserve application separate from the World Heritage Site application.

Send letters of support to salishseatrust@shaw.ca and visit salishseatrust.ca for more information.