Protecting the Great Bear Sea

After years of collaborative efforts, on June 25, 2024, 17 First Nations,1 the Government of Canada, and the Government of British Columbia announced the signing of the Great Bear Sea Project Finance for Permanence (PFP) initiative. The Indigenous-led PFP follows a co-governance model designed to protect and conserve the marine wildlife and habitats of the Great Bear Sea (also known as the Northern Shelf Bioregion). Management of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) Network, together with new investments in conservation-based economic development, will acknowledge Indigenous stewardship across the region and is expected to create thousands of new jobs over the coming years.

“The Marine Protected Area Network is designed to protect and conserve these important resources from a place of co-governance that honours our expertise and our jurisdiction over our territories,” explained K̓áwáziɫ (Marilyn Slett), President of Coastal First Nations – Great Bear Initiative. “Together, we have created a model that will support the conservation goals the world needs – protecting locally and globally significant ecosystems and species – and ensuring our communities have the resources, training and equipment for durable and collaborative management.”

The Great Bear Sea extends across 102,000 square kilometres stretching from northern Vancouver Island to the Canada-Alaska border on the Pacific coast of North America. It is one of the world’s richest marine ecosystems, home to a wide array of marine life including herring, salmon, whales, dolphins, seabirds, and kelp forests.

Emphasising coastal First Nations’ special relationship to the land and sea, K̓áwáziɫ affirmed: “We believe that if we take care of the land, the land will take care of us, and if we take care of the ocean, the ocean will take care of us. These are our breadbaskets.”

Dallas Smith, President of Na̲nwak̲olas Council, stated: “Today, we celebrate the results of First Nations, government, industry, stakeholders, and community members all working together to develop solutions that work for people and for nature. Our shared commitment to a healthy coast is what feeds our families today and will continue to sustain our communities, cultures, and economies, resulting in a better future for British Columbians and the world.” He elaborated:

Our intent was always to protect land and sea. Today, we have followed through on this commitment to our ancestors, our Elders, our communities, and our future generations. The Great Bear Sea PFP is the model we need to protect marine ecosystems and restore biodiversity, all while supporting prosperous economies and healthy communities.

Eddy Adra, Chief Executive Officer of Coast Funds, added that “First Nations are extending a successful model of collaborative stewardship, backed by durable conservation financing, from the rainforest to the sea.” Coast Funds, the world’s first Indigenous-led conservation finance organization, will manage these funds on behalf of the participating First Nations.

The Great Bear Sea PFP initiative will bring $335 million dollars from governments and philanthropic organizations. The agreement is expected to add an estimated 14,000 square kilometres of new protected areas to the existing 16,000 square kilometres of protected areas within the MPA zone.

Mandell Pinder extends our congratulations to the 17 Nations for reaching this amazing milestone in their ongoing work to govern and steward their marine territories. We also extend our gratitude for Canada’s and British Columbia’s collaborative partnership in this important work together.

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1 Haida Nation, Gitga’at First Nation, Gitxaała Nation, Haisla Nation, Kitselas First Nation, Kitsumkalum Band, Metlakatla First Nation, Heiltsuk Nation, Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation, Nuxalk Nation, Wuikinuxv Nation, Da’naxda’xw-Awaetlala Nation, K’omoks First Nation, Kwiakah First Nation, Mamalilikulla First Nation, Tlowitsis Nation, and Wei Wai Kum First Nation.