The Pacific Marine Life Sanctuaries Society became a registered charitable organization in 1990, but was renamed the Marine Life Sanctuaries Society in 1993. That same year, Bernard Hanby, one of the founders of the society, wrote an article entitled, An Idea Whose Time Has Come wherein he identified the long-overdue justification for marine reserves (read article here). Since 1985 the idea of forming a society had been buoyed around by long time dive partners, Andy Lamb and Bernard Hanby, authours of the popular, photographic and encyclopedic book, Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest (2005). Throughout thousands of dives on the Central Coast of BC over a period of 25 years, they had observed a significant decline in populations of inshore rockfish species that were formally abundant. Coincidentally, they noticed a major increase in the targeting of live rockfish species by commercial interests and increased sport-fishing pressure. They decided it was time to take action, and establishing marine sanctuaries was deemed a promising approach.
Since its initiation, MLSS has been working to achieve greater protection of our coastal waters through the creation of sanctuaries where absolutely no extraction of life, or mineral, is permitted within a marine protected area (MPA). After decades of lobbying by not-for-profit organizations, and with much talk, little was accomplished with < 0.5% of areas off the coast of Canada protected. Until now.
Although new Marine Protected Areas were established by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in 2017, coast to coast to coast, a meager 3.64% of our marine coastal areas is protected. Nonetheless, progress is being made. After 16 years, an Oceans Act MPA has finally been established to protect the glass sponge reef ecosystems in Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound. More recently, other locations supporting these incredible glass sponge reefs have been found in the Strait of Georgia and Howe Sound, including 12 discovered by MLSS. The stakeholder consultation process is underway and the hopes are high that they too will be protected under DFO’s goal to achieve 10% protected marine and coastal areas by 2020.
MLSS knows that the best methodology to support over-harvested marine life and help it survive, and enable the ecosystems to return to a healthy sustainable state, lies in full no-take marine sanctuaries. As with the observed decline of rockfish species, 90% of the world’s big fish are gone from our oceans; yet few people are aware of this.
There is a false perception that MPAs are completely protected from all types of extractions (e.g., fishing, trapping, seining, trawling, etc.). This is not the case. Most MPAs allow one or more forms of extraction. Tor a marine sanctuary to exist and support sustainable marine life there can be no extraction whatsoever (full no-take initiative). If given time, the sanctuary will have a spill-over affect of marine life that will benefit the surrounding areas and populations. Sanctuaries need to be large and the protection needs to be enforced. Growing evidence has shown that there is a prevalence of low compliance and a general lack of awareness of existing fishing regulations with rampant poaching, especially in Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs) (Haggarty 2013; Vachon and Kushneryk 2017). Enforcement of regulations has been a sorely lacking entity throughout Canada’s coastal areas.
MLSS continues to focus on a stewardship program at the community level to empower citizens to report on illegal fishing and other such activities that are harmful to sustainable fisheries and the overall health of the ocean. The program allows people to understand how to observe, record and report their observations to DFO. We do not advocate policing. We do advocate for education and awareness so that citizens can understand the existing rules and accurately report infractions to the appropriate federal or provincial conservation officers.
MLSS believes that the key to success lies in community engagement and education. Our Beach Interpreter Program (BIP) links divers with shoreline educators and interpreters to better inform citizens of the local marine life that lives in the ocean and their intricate and complex food webs upon which we depend. Humans are intimately involved and responsible for the sustainability of marine life and the habitats or ecosystems that support it. BIPs tend to focus on young children, although the parents are equally captivated with the ‘hands-on’ touching of marine life. The average individual has never seen many of the common creatures that live in the ocean. Unfortunately the large, charismatic creatures like dolphins and whales tend to get all the attention, while the fish populations, like rockfishes, become decimated. Few appreciate the fact, that for example, the primary prey of Resident Killer Whales is Chinook salmon. Fish are important contributors to the food web, as are the ecosystems in which they live, forage and depend on for nursery grounds. Using science-based research, education, hands-on BIP activities, photography and video documentation, MLSS endeavours to create an emotional attachment by citizens to marine life and to encourage a responsible approach to sustainable fisheries through the establishment of protected marine sanctuaries.
Our Vision: MLSS will create an environment that is conducive to educating, inspiring and engaging the individuals and communities to support the creation of marine protected areas (or sanctuaries).
Our Mission: Making the world a better place, one No-Take Marine Protected Area (MPA) sanctuary at a time.
Our Pledge: Being a member of MLSS means that you, as a member and marine steward, will voluntarily refrain from extracting any marine organism out of RCAs, MCAs, NMCAs, and other marine reserves.