CPAWS welcomes opportunity to improve protection of Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area

Vancouver, BC – The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is concerned about the weak protection measures that have been proposed for the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area. The draft regulations allow activities like bottom trawling, long-lining and industrial shipping to continue within the proposed marine protected area, which continues to put marine wildlife at risk.

Located off the northern tip of Vancouver Island, the Scott Islands are the most important seabird breeding area in Pacific Canada. They are home to 90% of Canada’s tufted puffins and half of the world’s Cassin’s auklets. The surrounding nutrient-rich ocean waters support a great diversity of marine life including albatrosses and other birds, as well as sea otters, Steller sea lions and several species of whales. However the population of nesting seabirds on the islands is estimated to have declined from 2.2 million to 1.4 million birds since the 1990s, and a mass stranding of dead Cassin’s auklets occurred from BC to California last year.

“Environment Minister McKenna has committed to working with stakeholders to improve the protection measures for the Scott Islands, not just for seabirds but for other species that use the area. We will definitely be taking her up on that offer,” said Sabine Jessen, CPAWS’ National ocean program director. “We look forward to working with Minister McKenna alongside Fisheries and Oceans Minister LeBlanc and Transportation Minister Garneau to ensure that the threats from fishing and shipping to seabirds and other marine species are properly addressed,” adds Jessen.

“Scientific research shows that bycatch in fisheries, disturbance by ships and boats, and oil spills are harmful to birds and other marine wildlife. We want to see Environment and Climate Change Canada take a much more precautionary approach than what is outlined in the regulations,” said Alex Barron, Ocean Conservation Manager at CPAWS’ BC chapter.

“The only restrictions in the draft regulations are for fisheries that have never even happened here and on ship anchoring and boat traffic near the islands – what about all the current threats posed by fishing and shipping that the birds face at sea?” said Barron. “The whole point is to protect the foraging habitat of the birds which can travel tens and even hundreds of kilometers from the islands to find food, so these measures won’t protect them when they are at sea,” she adds.

The Scott Islands will be the first marine National Wildlife Area to be established in Canada and is intended to protect the foraging habitat of the seabirds that nest on the Scott Islands as well as migratory birds that feed in the surrounding waters over the summer. The proposed boundary covers a total area of 11,540 km2.  “Unless the regulations contain restrictions on harmful activities, seabirds and other species in the area remain at great risk, and this sets a worryingly poor precedent for future marine National Wildlife Areas,” said Jessen.

As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity Canada has committed to protect at least 10% of its ocean by 2020. “We realise that the government is up against an ambitious timeline for establishing marine protected areas, especially given that just 1% of our ocean is currently protected, but it is important that quality is not sacrificed for quantity. As these regulations currently stand, the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area would not meet the criteria for an effectively managed MPA and so should not count towards the CBD target” Jessen adds.

The public has 30 days to provide feedback to the government on the proposed Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area.