The Great Bear Region along British Columbia’s coast holds one of the largest unspoiled temperate rainforests left on the planet. It’s the only place in the world to find the rare white-coated Kermode — better known as the spirit bear— and home to some of the oldest and largest trees on the planet, including 1,000-year-old cedars and spruce that stand nearly 30 storeys high.

There was a time when much of the rainforest was slated to be clear cut. But this week, environmentalists, forestry companies and the 26 First Nations that call the rainforest home reached a final agreement that permanently protects the wilderness and benefits us all.

The agreement is momentous, but it protects only one half of the region’s natural wealth.

Off the coast of the newly protected Great Bear Rainforest lies the Great Bear Sea, one of the richest cold-water marine environments in the world. Its pristine, thriving waters are packed with nutrients, supporting an abundance of whales, all five species of Pacific salmon, as well as dolphins, porpoises, sea birds and other marine life.

The Great Bear Sea, however, is virtually unprotected and faces risks from proposed oil and gas pipelines that would terminate at the region’s vulnerable coast. That would require the construction of new terminals for the transfer of oil and gas to tankers, increasing shipping and the threat of spills in the sensitive area.

WWF is working to secure protection for the Great Bear Sea and the species and people that depend on it, but we’re facing pressures as development plans for the region pile up. It took 20 years to secure protections for the rainforest. We don’t have that kind of time when it comes to protecting the sea.

There’s good news, however. A framework is already in place to help better manage the incredible marine resources of the Great Bear Sea. In April 2015, a Marine Planning Partnership (MaPP) was signed between 18 member First Nations and the Province of British Columbia, creating a marine management plan for 102,000 square kilometres of sea, an area only slightly smaller than the country of Iceland.

We’ve been working toward this plan since 2011. Much like the rainforest agreement, the sea plan aims to manage the Great Bear’s marine ecosystem in a way that benefits the environment while also supporting community and economic needs. It would also contribute toward Canada’s goal to increase national marine and coastal protection from 1.3 per cent of its territorial water now to 10 per cent by 2020.

The MaPP plans are an important step forward, but there’s much work to be done to ensure this ecosystem and the people that depend on it stay healthy. The MaPP plans do not yet include federal departments with authority over commercial fishing or shipping. And while we were very encouraged by the recent announcement of a tanker moratorium in the Great Bear Sea, WWF believes that a legislated ban on all tanker traffic is essential to discourage oil and gas pipelines from being constructed in this incredible part of Canada. Donate now to help us make it happen.

Only when the MaPP agreement is expanded and fully implemented will the full Great Bear region be adequately protected, as the health of the rainforest and the sea are intrinsically intertwined.

Rainforest runoff brings nutrients from the land to feed the productive sea environment. Those nutrients are returned to the land by the salmon. Salmon reflect the interconnectedness of the sea, wild rivers and land in the Great Bear Sea. By leaving the sea to spawn and die in the rainforest’s rivers, their carcasses return nutrients to the trees, birds, wolves and bears.

With Great Bear Rainforest agreement now complete, it’s time to complete protection plans for the Great Bear Sea. Twenty years is too long to wait.

David Miller
David Miller is President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund. He was formerly the chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and, from 2003 to 2010, mayor of Toronto.

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