The Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos Island, the Great Wall of China: These are all geographic treasures, internationally recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Washington State has one: the Olympic National Park. A nonprofit in Canada is now petitioning its federal government to add the Salish Sea to that list.
The Nanaimo-based group, Salish Sea Trust, has been gathering signatures and letters of support from government officials for the past year. The group is petitioning Canada’s parks agency to include the Salish Sea on its list of places for consideration as World Heritage sites.
Laurie Gorlay has been leading the campaign. He says the UNESCO status would help protect the unique ocean environment home to some 3,000 species and the 10,000-year-old indigenous Salish culture.
A unique aspect of the designation is that the protection isn’t really binding. Instead, it works through “moral suasion,” Gorlay said.
“There’s no governance offered by the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. It is a recognition of the value of the place. And the government at the federal level signs on and says yes, they’re going to protect that area to that standard,” he said.
If a site is ever under threat, interested parties can appeal to UNESCO for help. But there’s more give-and-take than with many other kinds of protection.
That’s why Gorlay says it was quite a blow when the U.S. announced earlier this month that it will withdraw from UNESCO, citing anti-Israel bias. Roughly 40 percent of the sea is in Washington state and the trust had hoped for support and cooperation.
The Salish Sea Trust is hoping the international, non-binding agreement could serve as an effective framework for protecting the ecosystem across the U.S.-Canada border.
Parks Canada will announce its list in December, as part of the country’s 150th anniversary celebrations.