Gulf of St. Lawrence is Important to Canadian Identity
We Canadians love the wilderness. Whether we’re talking to visitors here or people we meet in our travels, our conversations almost always end up about our great outdoors and pristine natural spaces. Caring about the environment is one of the ways we define ourselves.
But how good are we at protecting what’s at the core of our identity?
Despite national parks that act as natural wildlife reserves, and bold policies adopted by some of our most progressive provinces to combat climate change, the fact remains that our environmental regulatory system is being downgraded by a federal government that gives some industrial interests priority over the environment and the overall long-term economy that depends on it.
This is especially dangerous when it comes to preserving ecosystems that rely on strong policies and regulations to thrive. For example, Canada has the longest coastline of any nation but only protects one per cent of its ocean and marine environments—well under the 10 percent recommended by the Convention on Biological Diversity of the United Nations.
Proposed regulatory changes make it look like the environment is not a priority. The federal government recently signaled its intention to gut the Fisheries Act by stripping down habitat protection provisions, and it plans to amend the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) in a way that would make it easier for mining and oil companies, for example, to jump through regulatory hoops and get projects up and running faster than the time required to evaluate all their impacts on nature.
These legislative changes could have serious repercussions for the health of marine environments, including the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Oil and gas reserves there have industry and governments eyeing the economic opportunities. Softening environmental laws could have a direct impact on the Gulf’s health and future by allowing the oil industry access to this fragile and complex ecosystem.
I had the chance to visit the Magdalen Islands, in the heart of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in spring 2011 with my friend George Stroumboulopoulos. We were filming a web segment to raise awareness of the Gulf’s importance and the risks associated with oil and gas drilling. The natural beauty there so inspired me that I wrote “The Declaration of the Defenders of the Gulf.” It says, among other things, “Now, exploding human numbers, technological power, consumptive demand, and the global economy are putting the Gulf under multiple stresses. We understand that our economic and social well-being depend on a healthy Gulf ecosystem.”
It’s a call to slow down and consider the values of nature and the importance of the area to the people who have lived there for generations and, indeed, to all of us. Now is the time to defend one of the planet’s most precious and unique ecosystems from industrial development.
There’s been a lot of buzz around possible oil and gas development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, including a proposal to drill in the Old Harry area. The stakes are high. According to the Quebec government, the Old Harry prospect alone is twice the size of the Hibernia oil field, with about two billion barrels of oil and up to five trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
We must reflect on the long-term impacts of industrial development—from an environmental perspective and in consideration of the communities that have depended on the Gulf’s bountiful resources for thousands of years. The David Suzuki Foundation and its friends and partners are committed to raising awareness about the consequences of today’s choices on the people of tomorrow.
Scientists say we need to know more about the Gulf's ecosystems and the complex relationships people have developed with them over millennia. That’s why we must invest in science-based research and strengthen our knowledge before doing anything that could jeopardize the health of the Gulf’s ecosystems. The Fisheries Act and the CEAA are based on sound scientific information. It is of utmost importance that any changes to these laws be informed by the same scientific knowledge.
The Gulf of St. Lawrence and all of Canada’s marine ecosystems are invaluable to us all. We need to keep strong laws to ensure we protect these places that give us so much and help define us as Canadians.
Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Sustainable Fisheries Analyst Scott Wallace.
Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.