EDITORIAL: There’s a push to get the Salish Sea designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Just what effect would the designation have on shipping, fishing, oil tankers, etc.?

It was one of those dozens upon dozens of e-mails we get every day, our fingers hovering over the delete button because we really don’t need to spend time on stories about olives in California or the latest gripe from taxpayers in Scarborough.

Whoa, step away from that delete button. This e-mail suggested a group is trying to create interest in designating the Salish Sea, that body of water we hug and love in Parksville Qualicum Beach, as a World Heritage Site.

There are 1,052 such sites in the world, 18 in Canada, including Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, Dinosaur Provincial Park and the Rideau Canal. World Heritage sites are areas designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), with the goal of preserving places of cultural, natural and historic significance.

Sounds good on the surface. The Salish Sea (Puget Sound and both the Georgia and Juan De Fuca straits) is unique, biologically diverse and important culturally and scientifically.

Red flags shot up immediately, however. Would this designation essentially shut the Salish Sea down to business, as in fishing, transportation and yes, oil tankers? These waters have been important business and food-gathering routes since, well, since there were people, and long before white folk. Was this effort some end-around, a clever ploy by environmentalists to stop the expansion of oil-tanker traffic before any new pipeline even reached the coast?

Laurie Gourley is with the Salish Sea Trust and he put some of our fears aside.

“It (the UNESCO designation) does not stop commercial activities,” Gourley said last week. “In fact, we expect a little flak from the anti-tanker interests.”

Attaining World Heritage Site status is a 10-year process. UNESCO’s latest round of applications are due at the end of January, 2017, a short four months away. The Salish Sea Trust aims to get its information to Parks Canada (which must make the formal application to UNESCO) by December. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been encouraging Canadians to come up with applications for World Heritage Sites.

Gourlay said the input of First Nations people is key to the application. He is encouraging all people to get involved and learn more. For more information, e-mail salishseatrust@shaw.ca.

— Editorial by John Harding

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