The Scott Islands – five stormy, foggy, and rocky islands lying off the wave-battered northwestern tip of Vancouver Island – host some two million seabirds each year. These birds nest in colonies, from staggering slopes of breeding murres to colourful gatherings of tufted puffins. The Scott Islands are internationally recognized as a globally significant bird area and are known to be the most important breeding ground for seabirds in BC.
Though remotely located and difficult to access, each year between May and October, local and international populations of migratory seabird species come from as far away as Japan, Chile, Hawaii, and Australia to breed on the islands and to feed in the surrounding waters. In addition to providing feeding habitat for internationally listed species of endangered seabirds, including Blackfooted Albatrosses and Marbled Murrelets, the Scott Islands area provides the only breeding site for Thick-billed Murres in the province. Deemed a critical habitat for 55% of the global population of Cassin’s Auklets and home to the tufted puffin, the island also supports some of the largest and most productive Steller Sea Lion rookeries in the world and is an important rockfish area.
In 1971, the government of BC acknowledged the area’s critical importance for seabirds and marine mammals. At that time, strict protection as Ecological Reserves was assigned to three of the five islands, Anne Vallee (aka Triangle), Beresford and Sartine (and one km of foreshore), making them accessible only for research purposes. By 1995, the remaining two islands, Lanz and Cox (and associated foreshore), were given protection as provincial parkland. The province’s commendable and forward-looking designation, coupled with the Islands’ remoteness, has ensured that the Islands themselves are now well protected. Though designation of this area was progressive for its time, research conducted on the Islands by Simon Fraser University has shown that seabirds routinely forage as far as 100 km from nest sites, making the current protection inadequate to fully safeguard the marine species dependent on the area for survival.
These islands “for the birds” were fully protected by 1995. But seabirds spend 90 percent of their lives in the ocean and the waters surrounding the ocean remain unprotected. It is critical to protect a substantial portion of the coastal waters surrounding the Scott Islands because the most serious threats to the area’s seabirds are suffered in the water. These threats include oil pollution, competition with commercial fisheries for food, being caught and killed as bycatch in longline fisheries, and the effects of climate change. If the long-term survival of the area’s seabirds and the success of their chicks is to be ensured, it is critical to protect the at-sea foraging habitat for seabirds in the form of a 100km buffer around the islands.
Among other things, this additional protection will help to safeguard an adequate supply of forage fish, and will protect seabirds from being caught and killed as fisheries by-catch.
In 2000, following campaign pressure from CPAWS-BC, the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) began a pilot Marine National Wildlife Area (MNWA) process, the first in Pacific Canada, at this site, and on March 19th 2007, federal Finance Minister announced his government’s commitment to fund completion of the Scott Islands as one of Canada’s next nine marine protected areas.
On January 31st, 2016, the Canadian Government announced draft regulations for the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area. Although CPAWS welcomes the government’s effort to establish Canada’s first marine National Wildlife Area around the Scott Islands, the draft regulations allow activities like bottom trawling, long-lining, and industrial shipping to continue within the proposed Marine Protected Area, despite knowing these activities are harmful to seabirds, marine mammals, and many other marine species.
CPAWS has been working with Environment Canada since the mid-1990s toward designating the marine area around the Scott Islands group as an effective MNWA under the Canadian Wildlife Act. This would ensure that the surrounding habitat and resources upon which seabirds and marine mammals depend are fully protected.
The Scott Islands are part of CPAWS’ national campaign for Canada to create 12 new Marine Protected Areas, covering at least 10% of our oceans by 2020.
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