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UNESCO World Heritage Committee calls for buffer zone for Gros Morne: CPAWS encourages action

OTTAWA -- CPAWS is welcoming the UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s formal adoption today, at its annual meeting in Doha, Qatar, of a recommendation that Canada create a buffer zone around Gros Morne National Park and World Heritage Site to protect it from industrial threats. 

“A permanent buffer zone is the next step needed to protect Gros Morne,” said Éric Hébert Daly, National Executive Director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. “We hope to work with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the federal government to implement the World Heritage Committee’s recommendation. We encourage them to immediately initiate an inclusive and science-based process to do so.”

Last June the World Heritage Committee expressed serious concern about proposed oil drilling and fracking activities adjacent to Gros Morne National Park, and indicated it would be monitoring the issue closely.

Gros Morne, in Newfoundland and Labrador, was designated a World Heritage Site in 1987 because of its exceptional natural scenic beauty and geological features.  Petroleum development or other industrialization of the coastline would jeopardize the natural beauty and ecosystems of this spectacular national park, as well as the sustainable tourism economy that relies on the natural beauty of Gros Morne and surrounding area.

Last fall, in response to public and tourism industry outcry against proposed oil exploration, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced a province-wide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing to allow for more study and public debate.  Then in December, the federal-provincial offshore petroleum regulatory board refused to extend the proponent’s petroleum exploration license along the coast of Gros Morne and the Great Northern Peninsula. CPAWS welcomed these positive steps, but noted that they would not prevent future harmful industrial development proposals. 

Buffer zones around World Heritage Sites are not a new idea.  In fact, it is now general practice for new World Heritage Sites to be established with buffer zones around them.  Gros Morne was designated in 1987, before this concept was part of World Heritage policy and practice.

In the decision approved today, the World Heritage Committee also noted that if the current moratorium is lifted without adequate measures in place to protect Gros Morne’s “outstanding universal values”, they would request that a monitoring mission be sent to Canada to investigate.

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View the UNESCO document