Salish Sea Conference 2011

Here is a poster (condensed from a powerpoint presentation) presented by MLSS at the conference SalishSeaposter 2011

This report is written by Roy Mulder and is his point of view alone.

The Salish Sea conference was attended by Roy Mulder and Chris Harvey-Clark on behalf of the Marine Life Sanctuaries Society. It was a 3 day conference attended by dominantly marine biologists and people with interest in the marine issues in regards to the Salish Sea. This area is bordered by Canada and the United States.

The conference represents a positive way of examining ocean scientific/conservation issues without being subject to the geopolitical boundaries. It also demonstrated some distinct differences between Canada and the U.S.. Canada’s ocean shoreline is accessible to all Canadians and belongs to the public. The U.S. shoreline can be privately owned.

This alone presents a different approach when dealing with shoreline conservation issues like eradication of different invasive species like non-indigenous eel grass. On the U.S. side of the border pesticides are being used , whereas it is illegal to use pesticides in the water in Canada. Some of the U.S. programs have been successful, yet Canada lags behind and isn’t matching the U.S. efforts. This poses a challenge, as although there is a geopolitical boundary, the ocean doesn’t recognize this boundary. This demonstrates the need for a unified cross border effort when dealing with these sorts of issues. Although the conference identified many of these issues, solutions were almost non-existent.

This seemed to be a theme at the conference. There is a multitude of scientists studying marine issues, although the lack of linkage to groups actively pursuing solutions is woefully evident. The Marine Life Sanctuaries Society was the only group in the poster session that was dominantly promoting marine sanctuaries. In a time when marine protection is one of the prime concerns and only way of fully protecting the marine environment, it is disappointing to see a conference of this magnitude to ignore the issue. MLSS was refused the opportunity to present an oral presentation.

This absence of groups working on active solutions seemed to be the norm rather than the exception. Attending these conferences comes at a high cost to non-profit organizations, and it is difficult to justify our attendance, especially when we aren’t given the opportunity to present.

There didn’t seem to be many presentations by groups that were working on marine issues that didn’t have a strong scientific linkage. It was quite impressive to see what community based programming was doing in the few cases where science met activism. The invasive eel grass was an excellent example of this. Community groups worked together with scientists on eradication programs. There are however some serious concerns about whether the U.S. is using safe pesticides on the eel grass. Regardless of how innocuous the pesticides were claimed to be, they still used the word toxic when talking about them.

There was a group called the Sea Change Marine Conservation Society that had a few local marine conservation programs in Squamish. They seem to have some active programming including watershed education and riparian restoration.

Organizations with scientists and citizen scientists (although very few of these) seemed to be given priority in the oral presentations. Other environmental groups did not participate in the Poster Session or oral presentations. There were several individual representatives from groups like Sierra and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

Government representatives from both a federal and provincial level were quite evident. The dominant department was Environment Canada and of course Fisheries and Oceans Canada had their share of participants.  Environment Canada had a list of the people’s names that had been convicted of conservation charges. The fines seemed quite insignificant, although it is good that the names are documented. It would be interesting to see how many repeat offenders and which companies were found guilty. They did not have any record of the number of actual reports that had been made. It would be interesting to know how many charges were laid in comparison to how many convictions. It is clear that Environment Canada will have to be a partner on the MLSS Stewardship Program.

Data collection seemed to be one of the key areas of scientific interest. The question remains, “what is the point of collecting information if there is no follow-up on actions to create conservation?”. This seemed to be the case in the majority of the presentations.

The absence of solutions for the many challenges the ocean faces are clearly evident. It seems that many scientists feel that associating with environmental groups implicates them in bias in their studies. This is one of the key hurdles environmental groups face when looking for scientists to support them in their marine conservation efforts. Activism seems to be a dirty word amongst scientists, despite the fact that scientific studies are pointless without the activism, to get the message out. It seems that many scientists think that communication of findings should go directly to policy makers for review. They totally disregard the need for the public to become engaged. This is the job of marine environmentalists and non-profit groups, yet the scientists will not engage with them openly.  Several complaints were directed at the inability to convey complex marine issues to policy makers using a one or two page document. This clearly demonstrates the need for bringing the issue into the public realm first to use as a public lever on policy makers. The key to success is using this methodology.

The information gleaned from the conference clearly demonstrates the need for fully protected areas in both Canada and the U.S.. The lack of focus on marine sanctuaries at this conference leaves me wondering if the organizers really understand this. I may not be a scientist, yet I certainly understand just how important the creation of marine sanctuaries is.

I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the scientists working with MLSS to change this mindset that is hindering the advancement of crucial marine protection measures like sanctuaries.  We have our work cut out for us in changing the mindset of the mainstream.
In summary the Salish Sea conference was a dismal failure when viewed in the light of creating marine sanctuaries. The U.S. delegates seemed to be able to access more funding for studies and is much further ahead in creating marine protected areas, although they too are struggling to create any significant areas. If this conference is an indicator, we still have a long way to go.

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