Overview, Salish Sea World Heritage Site

Summary & Overview, Salish Sea World Heritage Site

Salish Sea – Canada/US, West Coast NA

This is a Legacy Moment for the Salish Sea, and we’re looking at          UNESCO’s recognition, and World Heritage Site standards, to assist us on our incredible journey!

Spring 2017

Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, believes the Salish Sea is profound. So do many local governments alongside these unique ocean waters where some 3.5M Canadians live, work and play.

In April we were pleased to receive the support of Victoria’s Mayor and Council for our World Heritage Site application to Parks Canada, along with letters from MPs and MLAs, local governments and some 15,000 individuals who signed our Petition.

The cultural and natural protections, health and biodiversity and habitat which we enjoy, and the economic benefits which accrue when a World Heritage Site is recognized, were all supported.

As gatekeepers of the Salish Sea, invested with responsibilities and a sense of duty for the betterment of all, the Council of the City of Victoria spoke up!

The process involved in designating a World Heritage Site will similarly invite everyone in and around the Salish Sea to consider the benefits, and can take up to ten years. With the UNESCO application submitted, and support received, we have begun an incredible journey, one that gives us all a chance to leave a legacy that the world can enjoy and benefit from.

Last August our Minister of Environment, the Honourable Catherine McKenna, invited Canadians to submit applications for places of outstanding natural and cultural value, to be included on Canada’s tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

With a 10,000 year old Coast Salish culture, the natural beauty and biodiversity, and a unique inner ocean just outside the back door of 3.5 million B.C. residents “who call the Salish Sea home”, it wasn’t long before we got to work.

Since then it has become evident that the economic benefits from recognition of a World Heritage Site can generate the wealth, and establish a foundation for sustainable development, which in turn can maintain the Salish Sea’s outstanding values for all to enjoy – a gift to the world!

The Salish Sea, named in 2010, is central to Coast Salish peoples,

“We commend our governing neighbours in the success of bringing our water bodies together under one name, the Salish Sea …We believe the new name is a symbol of the international message to the World. It demonstrates the importance for all governing bodies of recognizing the connectivity of the ecosystems and …is a positive move toward future collaboration of policy and science to address issues in an ecosystem that is so vital to the sustainability of all of our life ways.”                                                                                    – Coast Salish Gathering, May 2015.

If successful, the ‘Salish Sea World Heritage Site’ will carry the same international recognition awarded Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, the Great Wall of China, and Canada’s Gros Morne National Park …to name just a few of the 1000+ UNESCO sites around the world.

World Heritage Sites are exceptional places. Recognizing their Outstanding Universal Value helps to protect these significant sites as the common heritage of humankind. We believe the Salish Sea is such a place – an ecological, cultural and economic region with global significance, a unique inner ocean that deserves recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The potential benefits, and measures which could follow for natural, marine and cultural values, would serve the needs of residents and businesses alike, while ensuring that the quality of life and foundation for the Salish Sea’s prosperity remains in place.

These are all things a World Heritage Site would help to achieve, for all humanity, for all time.

We believe that World Heritage Site recognition, the Salish Sea proposal, will assist and support and benefit all who live and are considered within this archipelago between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland.

With both provincial and federal government leaders emphasizing the need for economic and environmental solutions, and the need growing for long-lasting benefits and employment in BC’s southern coast, we look at a Salish Sea World Heritage Site as a foundation for cultural and natural heritage protection – one which will generate many ongoing jobs and economic returns.

Victoria’s Mayor and Council pondered these economic benefits, the new businesses which would prosper and the increased tourism potential associated with UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This brand carries a lot of weight and interest in international circles, attracting visitors and investors.

The prestige and protections afforded by way of a World Heritage Site designation

Places us with the best of the best.

Our application for the Salish Sea addresses the range of interests represented here on the west coast of Canada, calling for a unique type of cultural and natural World Heritage Site recognition, one that emphasizes sustainable development, marine protections, a cultural landscape, and partnership with First Nations.

While UNESCO’s World Heritage Site designation remains an honour of the highest order, a highly esteemed recognition of outstanding cultural and natural value, it is also a recognition which brings millions of dollars to an area, improving employment and quality of life for everyone in the process.

In this respect the Salish Sea is without equal. Its cultural heritage and natural beauty,  grace and majesty benefits our west coast in many ways …including world famous salmon fishing, boating tours, diverse habitat and wildlife viewing, and long walks on the beach with family and friends.

Gulf Islands in a unique inner ocean, a welcoming climate, Coast Salish roots since time immemorial, and rich biodiversity and world-class scuba diving that attracted the likes of Jacques Cousteau …all have led to the Salish Sea garnering a great deal of attention on the travel pages of major publications like Conde Naste and the NY Times.

Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, estuaries brimming with new life, the songs and birds of two continents mingling in this Pacific flyway …it’s easy to see the sacred and spiritual, to breathe in the ocean air and to be in awe of the Salish Sea’s outstanding universal values and significance to our Canadian identity.

The Salish Sea World Heritage Site initiative provides an exceptional opportunity to advance health and protection, cooperation and partnership, economic prosperity and long-term cultural and natural benefits for this unique marine environment on Canada’s west coast.

In the process we are encouraging a conversation that includes consideration of the UN’s  proposals for UNDRIP, UNESCO and the Sustainable Development 2030 agenda. And we do this in partnership, with goals that reflect the Coast Salish and the naming of the Salish Sea in 2010.

Along with all these benefits we see the World Heritage Site proposal as a means to encourage cooperation and dialogue, and partnership with all sectors and interests.

Over the upcoming summer a Parks Canada Heritage Advisory Committee will review our application, undertaking a study of the cultural and natural heritage of the Salish Sea. By September they will report back, having determined whether the Salish Sea is a good candidate to be considered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In December 2017 the Prime Minister will announce the ten sites chosen to be added to Canada’s Tentative List of World Heritage Sites, beginning a 6-10 year process of consultation and dialogue before a final designation by the United Nations Educational and Scientific Cultural Organization.

We will be waiting patiently, hoping to celebrate with Victoria, and all who reside around the Salish Sea.

Whatever the outcome, all who love the Salish Sea, who live by its shores and have been inspired by its natural beauty and the 10,000 year old culture of the Coast Salish, will continue to help build a foundation for cultural and natural heritage protection, and for the jobs and economic returns which foster sustainable development. And if we don’t make Canada’s top ten list for UNESCO recognition as a World Heritage Site this time, we certainly will the next!

Please consider the many benefits which recognition of a Salish Sea World Heritage Site could bring to our region, and to Canada, and contact us. Your support, suggestions and questions are welcome.


                                                                         – Laurie Gourlay
                                                                            Interim Director, Salish Sea Trust