Parks Canada is holding workshops in Vancouver, British Columbia to discuss its Vision for the near future. The workshop included representatives from various stakeholders to comment on the future of Parks Canada with regard to their interests. As Vice President of the Canadian Marine Environment Protection Society and the President of the Marine Life Sanctuaries Society of British Columbia, I attended the workshop to represent the Ocean environment and comment on the future protection and conservation of the Ocean.The following is a summary of the 15-year Vision Plan workshop that Parks Canada held on January 26th in Sydney, British Columbia. This was the second workshop in a series of 4. Several areas of interest surrounding the Canadian environment, stakeholders, and stakeholder use were discussed at the workshop; however, this post is in relation to the marine component of the Parks.
It is commendable that Parks Canada is consulting people and organizations in its plan to cover the priorities and concerns for the next 15 years. The workshop was attended by a wide variety of interest groups and individuals. It was encouraging to see First Nations represented at the same table, as the last workshop had no representation, as they were consulted separately. It is critical that all interested parties sit at the same table, rather than creating a divisive situation from the start of the process.
Still glaringly absent was the attendance of youth at this workshop. At a guess, the vast majority of people were over the age of 50 or 60. Clearly, a vision plan that doesn’t include youth from the onset of consultation has a serious flaw in it. The very people that will inherit the legacy of this consultation are not being represented in the process.
All of the attendees represented interest groups that are Parks users. Each of these groups brought their own agendas and concerns as they apply to Parks.
As a representative of both the Canadian Marine Environment Protection Society and Marine Life Sanctuaries Society, my agenda was to address the marine component of the Parks. It was clear that my groups were the ones with the most concern for the creatures in the Parks’ water component. The kayakers were concerned about parking and access, the boaters were concerned with moorage and the nature groups were interested in land use. Through an intentional oversight dive groups were not consulted as they “dive from boats” and were not considered significant Parks users.
It was evident that there is very little protection being afforded to any marine creatures in the plan. In the Gulf Islands Parks Reserve the current Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCA) inside the Parks are the only areas afforded any protection. RCAs protect only rockfish while a vast number of activities that capture rockfish are still permitted in them. Only 30 square kilometers of ocean out of all the Parks will be considered for any degree of protection. Few citizens are aware that marine Parks, implemented by Parks Canada, only protect the species on the Ocean bottom and do not protect marine organisms in the water column. The title marine Park is misleading and it is clear that the lack of protection is not widely known. Certain criteria being considered for protection will include conservation of biodiversity, areas for restoration of ecological integrity, and areas to best recover marine species at risk.
It was not clear how Parks Canada plans to address these concerns given that the only conservation tool they have are the existing Rockfish Conservation Areas. The National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA) strategy is clearly stalled. This process was started over a decade ago to address the marine component of the Southern Gulf Islands Reserve. The process seems to be hung up on Aboriginal rights and the access to the ocean bottom, which falls under the BC Provincial Government’s control. The years of stakeholder consultation by Parks has been rendered useless as a result of the inability to get past these issues.
Several of the interest groups were clearly not just neutral about the RCAs being used as a conservation tool, but hostile. It was evident that their interests would run up against conservation concerns and consequently they did not support further studies in the RCAs or increased marine protection. RCAs only provide hook and line protection, other methods of commercial and recreational fishing are still permitted in them.
Parks is planning on doing a more intensive study of the organisms in the Park using shifted baselines. It is a shame that they don’t use the information that Dr. Daniel Pauly has put together on historic fish populations in British Columbia. The oldest baseline that will be used is only 3 years of data. To base a strategy on a shifted baseline is a poor way to start. Studies will be done on the effectiveness of the RCAs, as well as studies of eelgrass, sea pens and bivalves. Predation and harvesting will still be permitted in the Parks.
There was some talk about the invasive Japonica eelgrass that is in a small area of the Park. This invasive species is currently being irradiated in the United States. Parks indicated that they have no intention of addressing this invasive species. Currently the infestation is quite small and could be taken care of while it is still in this state. There are some real concerns here for future spread of these invasive species as a result in this lack of action.
Most of the groups in attendance did express a concern about oil tanker traffic, which is currently increasing and directly threatens the Park area. It was noted that the last oil spill response strategy was done over 20 years ago. Tanker traffic over those years has increased and there is a current plan to increase traffic dramatically.
Modern communications techniques are not being utilized in the Vision Plan process other than the meager information found on the Parks Canada website. There is no work being done on social media like Facebook or Google +. One has to wonder how a “Vision” plan in 2012 doesn’t include either youth representation or modern social media.
It was repeatedly stated that Parks Canada is being fettered by ever decreasing funding. One of the purposes of the workshop was to address priorities. The increased protection of marine organisms in the Parks does not seem to be a priority.
Citizen Science is currently on the increase and was suggested as a method to balance a lack of government funding for science. We need to embrace this methodology in Canada and the bridge between mainstream scientists and conservation groups needs to be constructed.
Canadians interested in marine conservation in their National Parks need to contact government and voice their concerns while this is still early in consultation. The lack of other conservation groups that were not in attendance needs to be addressed. Youth needs to be engaged. There are numerous groups claiming a concern over marine conservation. It is time for them to join in the process while it is still in its’ infancy.