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Indigenous Marine Protected Area in BC wins prestigious international award

May 2, 2024

Photo courtesy of Kitasoo Xai'xais/Moonfish Media
Photo courtesy of Kitasoo Xai’xais/Moonfish Media

It’s a big win for Indigenous-led conservation on the world stage! Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation’s Gitdisdzu Lugyeks (Kitasu Bay) Marine Protected Area (MPA) has won Marine Conservation Institute’s prestigious Blue Parks Award — the first award in Canada and the first Indigenous-led blue park in the world.

Located near Klemtu on the central coast of BC, the Gitdisdzu Lugyeks MPA is a haven for marine life. Strong tides bring nutrient rich water into the bay, providing a rich source of food for fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Seagrass meadows and kelp forests provide herring with spawning grounds and other young fish with protective nursery habitat.

Designated in 2022, the MPA doesn’t just support nature, it sustains people as well. Gitdisdzu Lugyeks is an integral part of the culture, livelihoods and traditions of the local community. It is known as a spiritual place whose waters and marine life are vital to the Nation’s economy, health and culture. If marine life can thrive here, it is hoped that richness can expand into nearby areas and benefit both the people and wildlife that depend on the coast.

“We know these waters better than anyone, Kitasu Bay has been part of our home for thousands of years through to the present day,” said Hereditary Chief Nies’los (Kelly Robinson) in 2022.

Living around and stewarding these waters for thousands of years, the Kitasoo Xai’xais Stewardship Authority are weaving traditional knowledge and modern science together to responsibly care for the biodiversity and resources of the MPA. With the Kitasoo Xai’xais Guardian Watchmen monitoring these waters, management will follow the guiding principles of the Nation: loomsk (respect), sagayt k’uulm goot (interconnectedness), sityaaw (reciprocity), and gugwilx’ya’ansk (intergenerational knowledge).

Recognizing this, Marine Conservation International awarded Gitdisdzu Lugyeks with a Blue Park award earlier this month. These awards are given in recognition of exceptional marine biodiversity conservation; having met the highest science-based standards for conservation effectiveness. The judging panel considers the productivity and importance of the MPA’s location as well as its regulations and management.

“Receiving this Blue Park Award not only recognizes what we’ve been doing as a Stewardship Authority, but it also sets the stage for other Indigenous Nations to use this as a blueprint for their own protected areas in their territories,” said Kitasoo Xai’xais elected Chief, Doug Neasloss. “The management plan for Gitdisdzu Lugyeks combines our traditional knowledge and responsibilities with western science in a way that protects ecosystems and human livelihoods, and we’re grateful that this award recognizes the strength in that combination.”

This award is further proof of the effectiveness of Indigenous-led conservation. In 2019, a UBC-led study found that the total numbers of birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles were all greatest on lands managed or co-managed by Indigenous communities, higher than parks and wildlife reserves.

Gitdisdzu Lugyeks will be part of the Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area Network, an initiative led by 15 First Nations along the north and central coast. The network aims to connect new protected areas to already existing ones to help restore the region’s ocean to abundance for the benefit of children, grandchildren, and future generations.

This award is further proof that Indigenous-led conservation is the way forward. Learning from their vision and knowledge, a healthy coast can be achieved for the well-being of everyone in British Columbia.

Read more about the the Gitdisdzu Lugyeks MPA at:
The Narwhal
National Observer

Gitdisdzu Lugyeks (3)

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