NANAIMO — It's now or never if we want to protect the Salish Sea for future generations.
That's the view of the 'Salish Sea Trust', a Nanaimo group putting together a campaign to have the body of water classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Interim director Laurie Gourlay says the Salish Sea has great natural heritage and historical significance.
"We have a place that offers everything. There's a need then to put measures in place so that it's protected for all of humanity for all the generations into the future so that everyone can come and enjoy this," says Gourlay.
The United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines World Heritage Sites as natural or man-made sites, areas, or structures recognized as being of outstanding international importance and therefore as deserving special protection.
There are 1,052 sites in the world. 18 of them are in Canada. The only one near the west coast is a village in the Haida Gwaii, which Gourlay says has received an interim-designation.
The newly created group is racing against the clock. The deadline for applications is January 2017. An application must first be approved by the federal government. It is then forwarded to UNESCO for their review.
Despite being a bit rushed, Gourlay says it's vitally important to get this application in now. He says there won't be another nomination window for 10 years. During that time, he says, the Salish Sea will face a lot of threats.
"People are moving here in large numbers. Of course that kind of development impacts a lot of historical, cultural, natural places. If we had that designation it would be incumbent on developers and business to simply respect those areas."
There's some confidence in the chances of this effort being successful, according to Gourlay. It was prime minister Justin Trudeau himself who recently made the call for Canadians to nominate locations for the UNESCO designation.
"The prime minister has also said by 2017 he's going to designate five per cent of Canada's coastline as a marine protected area. This would fall under that provision, so there's an incentive for him."
The Salish Sea is, and has been, a major part of the economy in this region. From tankers to ferries and fishing, many rely on it for a living.
Gourlay says in fact, places with World Heritage Site designations see a big boost to the local economy. Coming from tourism and new businesses that compliment the designation moving in.
He concedes any resource intensive industry that had impacts upon the 'historical, cultural and natural heritage of outstanding universal value' would have to modify or mitigate their practices so as not to impact such heritage.
The Salish Sea Trust is now working on generating the required support from different levels of government, First Nations and communities. To follow their efforts, visit salishseatrust.ca.