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The Great Bear Sea, on the north coast of British Columbia, provides an incomparably rich habitat with deep fjords, rocky islands, glass sponge reefs and the shorelines of the Great Bear Rainforest. It is home to fin whales, humpback whales, orcas, seals and otters as well as sea birds, wolves and bears, including the iconic all-white spirit bear.

“It’s one of the world’s last natural rain forests,” says Danielle Shaw, chief councillor of the Wuikinuxv Nation. “I feel lucky to live surrounded by such natural beauty, but I’m also reminded that this ecosystem has been affected by things like overharvesting, mismanagement and climate change.”

A number of factors – including commercial fishing, shipping, forestry and infrastructure development – have contributed to a degradation of habitats and declines in the abundance of many species. “Everything is connected,” says Shaw. “The bears rely on different species of salmon, and studies have shown that when salmon numbers drop for even one season, this affects the health of the bear population. The same applies to eagles, seals and whales.”

Impacts are also felt by communities and those who depend on ocean ecosystems for employment, sustenance and well-being, she says. “We’re looking to restore critical habitat, such as eelgrass beds and kelp forests, where many species live and reproduce, as well as salmon-bearing streams and watersheds.”

Traditional knowledge can enhance decision-making, Shaw emphasizes. “The people living here know these areas like the back of their hands; they know what to harvest at what time of the year – and how to ensure practices are not negatively impacting species. We’ve taken that information and combined it with western science to ensure the highest rate of success.”

Another consideration for the Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area Network comes from economic impact studies. “We’re looking to create a balance between protection and economic opportunities,” she says. “Rather than a blanket protection, we envision different zones where certain activities can be continued. There is growing recognition among partners, including the fishing industry, that ecosystem protection can mean a thriving – and more sustainable – economy.”

The hope is that in 40 years the coastal region will be fuller, richer and healthier, and that visitors “will still get to see orcas and grizzly bears in this beautiful place of the world,” she says.

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with SeaBlue Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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