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Bay of Fundy needs stronger protection


This letter originally appeared in the Chronicle Herald (Halifax, NS) on Wednesday, August 25, 2010.

The Bay of Fundy, with its high tides and abundance of wildlife, is a global treasure. There’s no doubt about that. We support the efforts by the Nova Scotia government to advocate for the Bay of Fundy to be included as one of the new seven natural wonders of the world in the global competition currently underway.

But, in asking the world to declare the Bay of Fundy one of the seven natural wonders, our government needs to make sure that it is treating the bay that way, and takes the necessary steps to properly protect its important ecology and ecosystems from degradation. Unquestionably, there’s more that the governments of Nova Scotia and Canada could be doing.

The Bay of Fundy lacks a system of marine protected areas to protect its important and unique natural features, particularly areas where globally significant concentrations of whales occur. This, despite existing commitments from the federal government to establish representative marine protected areas in all regions of the country. There are some small sites protected as whale sanctuaries, but these designations have relatively weak legal teeth.

The province also lacks a comprehensive coastal policy to adequately protect our shorelines, including those along the Bay of Fundy. Some progress has been made in recent years towards developing this policy, but without changes in our coastal land-use policies and help for the municipalities, we’ll continue to see beaches and wetlands being destroyed, and houses built along the shore where they shouldn’t be.

Incompatible industrial development proposals for the Bay of Fundy also pop up from time to time, and some have come within a hair’s breadth of being approved. A few years ago, a proposal surfaced to establish a huge mega-quarry and marine terminal on the shores of Digby Neck to provide aggregate to the northeastern United States. Fortunately, that proposal never received the required environmental approvals, but since then, the Nova Scotia government has failed to develop policies to prioritize our coastline into areas where development makes sense, and areas where it doesn’t. Without better policies in place, coastal mega-quarry proposals for the Bay of Fundy will continue to pop up near important whale areas, and aquaculture sites near important fishing grounds.

The province also does not yet have a final "no net loss" policy for wetlands to prohibit any development from occurring on the tidal salt marshes of the Bay of Fundy. Only a fraction of these important salt marshes remain to support the large populations of migratory birds travelling up and down the Atlantic flyway. A clear policy is needed from the government that will ensure the tidal salt marshes along the bay will be protected and restored.

Not all is doom and gloom. Some important steps have been made recently to protect the ecology of the Bay of Fundy and there’s definitely some world-class research and conservation efforts taking place there. The movement of the shipping lanes in the bay seems to be helping to protect the endangered right whales from ship collisions; Parks Canada is conducting a comprehensive study of the Bay of Fundy to identify important marine areas for conservation; and the Nova Scotia government recently acquired long stretches of coastline along the bay for conservation, between Apple Head and Joggins.

These are encouraging steps, but our government needs to do more, and soon. To start, let’s get a system of marine protected areas in place, a coastal land-use plan that protects the shoreline of the Bay of Fundy, and a wetland policy that safeguards its tidal salt marshes. If the Bay of Fundy truly is the global treasure we’re saying it is, let’s treat it that way and show the world that we stand behind our call to have it declared one of the new seven natural wonders of the world.

Chris Miller and Rodrigo Menafra are with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society in Halifax.