WWF-Canada Blog:

Gwaii Haanas: An endowment of hope to people, place and the future of Canada’s Pacific Ocean

By Hussein Alidina, Senior Officer, Marine Planning
and Darcy Dobell, Vice President, Pacific Region

Update: Use these beautiful e-cards to tell your friends about this landmark moment in conservation.

We are all too familiar with the sad story of our oceans: once teeming with life, with salmon thick in the rivers and whales so abundant they were a hazard to navigation, they are now imperiled by the triple threats of overexploitation, poor management, and climate change. Around the world, eighty percent of all commercial fish species have been fished up to or beyond a sustainable level. Here in BC, the decline of marine ecosystems has had negative impacts on communities up and down the coast. Our oceans are fraught with such stories, almost to the point of paralysis. But glimmers of hope surface. Gwaii Haanas is one such glimmer, pointing the way to renewal in our oceans, and renewed prosperity and sustainability in coastal communities.

National Marine Conservation Areas (NMCAs) seek to protect marine ecosystems while at the same time allowing the use of the area in ecologically sustainable ways. They are a microcosm of how we ought to be managing all our oceans, all the time. The final designation of Gwaii Haanas will represent a profound shift in the management of this significant area. Where now we see poorly coordinated management of individual activities with little consideration of ecological, cultural and social values, the NMCA will establish a co-management structure in which the Haida Nation, Parks Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada will work with local stakeholders to jointly protect and manage the area. The governments have committed to develop a truly integrated management plan that links marine and terrestrial ecosystems conservation from mountaintop to seabed.


Buffalo Sculpin (c) A.Salomon / SFU


Cape St. James (c) L.Lee / MTE Inc.

While not unscathed by the past three centuries of declining ocean health, Gwaii Haanas remains in better shape than most Pacific Ocean ecosystems. The region supports a rich diversity of marine life including migrating populations of gray and humpback whales, sea lions, dolphins and other mammals, extensive kelp and eelgrass beds, a variety of fishes and invertebrates, significant populations of seabirds and more. Over 3000 species – and others still being discovered – inhabit this relatively pristine area, rendering it a global ecological treasure.


China Rockfish (c) R.Trebilco / SFU


Hooded Nudibranch (c) L.Lee / MTE Inc.

The designation of Gwaii Haanas as an NMCA will launch a process that can achieve the landmark goal of securing Canada’s first truly integrated land-sea management plan that can be a model for sustainable use. It will involve working with all those who have a stake in the future of Gwaii Haanas – including Haida citizens, commercial fishermen, recreational and tourism interests, researchers and naturalists, among others – and guided by science, local and traditional knowledge. This will not be an easy task; it will involve hard work and difficult decisions. However, step of designating Gwaii Haanas reflects the will of the Haida Nation, the Government of Canada, and local people to work together to transform oceans management and secure a shared future in this region. As the wisdom of the Haida says, it is in the spirit of Yah’guudang: it is about respect and responsibility, about knowing our place in the web of life, and how the fate of our cultures runs parallel with the fate of the ocean, sky and forest. WWF-Canada celebrates this shared commitment. The model that Gwaii Haanas can provide will be of critical importance not only in BC, but across Canada and around the world.


Kelp Forest Rockfish (c) R. Trebilco / SFU


Purple Sea Stars (c) H. Alidina / WWF-Canada


Red Rock Crab (c) L. Lee / MTE Inc.


Sand Lance (c) H. Alidina / WWF-Canada


Stellar Sealions (c) H. Alidina / WWF-Canada

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