Written for Daily Hive by Lasse Gustavsson, President and CEO of Ocean Wise.
COVID-19. Jobs. Education. Housing. There are many issues top of mind for British Columbians in the lead up to the Provincial election on October 24.
But as President and CEO of Ocean Wise – the Vancouver-based ocean conservation organization born out of the Vancouver Aquarium’s 60+ years of ocean advocacy – I want to remind voters that no matter which party is elected this month, we must make sure to hold them accountable to one of the most important (yet often least considered) issues for all for British Columbians: the health of BC’s marine environment.
Why? Because BC’s economy depends on it.
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Ocean-based industries in BC – including the seafood sector, tourism, recreation, and transportation — contribute billions in economic activity annually and support tens of thousands of jobs for British Columbians.
Yet, Fraser River salmon runs are at historically low levels, plastic pollution is choking our waterways, and climate change is raising the ocean’s acidity levels along our coastline.
This is what happens when we build an economy based on exploiting our environment and treating the ocean as an endless bounty of food and a bottomless dump.
While many issues are staring British Columbians in the face this election, it would be short-sighted to overlook the climate crisis and our environment.
There has been a lot of talk about investing in the “green economy” post COVID-19. Well, I am here to argue that we should also be investing in the “blue economy.” That means rebuilding a healthy and flourishing ocean so that it can continue to benefit British Columbians as a source of food, employment, recreation, tourism, and as a carbon sink.
So as you go to the polls, I’m asking you to consider where candidates stand on these three critical issues:
- The climate crisis: Canada is warming at twice the global rate and British Columbians have seen the effects of the climate crisis in unprecedented wildfires, more intense and frequent storms, the melting Arctic, and rising ocean acidity, which is weakening the shells of crabs and other shellfish. Reducing emissions is no longer enough. We need to take carbon out of the atmosphere. And BC has a unique opportunity! Healthy kelp forests can capture and store carbon dioxide more efficiently than land-based forests and provide buffers against ocean acidity. British Columbia should be investing in ocean-based solutions to climate change which will not only help climate, but also support the growth of our fisheries.
- Overfishing and Aquaculture Management: Are we headed for a salmon collapse in BC? When fish stocks shrink, it not only means less food for humans, it threatens the entire ecosystem. The southern resident killer whales – that rely on dwindling salmon stocks – are down to an alarming 74 individuals. Voters need to support the BC and Federal governments in better fisheries management, including ensuring fish farms do not negatively impact wild fish stocks. This will not only ensure we have food security in BC, but also to support jobs around the province and protect the animals – from whales to bears – who rely on plentiful fish.
- Pollution: Ocean Wise’s Pollution Tracker program has shown that many BC harbours and and waterways are surprisingly polluted. In addition, plastic pollution, and microplastics in our oceans are a giant issue with Canadian scientists finding plastics right through the food chain (including in the stomachs of Arctic whales and birds). Canadians hold the depressing accolade of leading the developed world in per capita production of waste, generating 1,587 pounds per person every year. We need our Provincial government to help us address ocean plastic pollution at the source. The Provincial and Federal single use plastic bans are a great start but will fall short in tackling the issue alone. We need a comprehensive strategy for all plastics that empowers business and consumers to adopt re-use models, alternative materials, and effective recycling habits, together with strengthened collection and recycling systems. We must also address the leakage of microplastics like textile fibers and tire particles from our storm water and wastewater systems.
If you care about jobs and the economy, you care about the ocean. If you care about reconciliation and social justice, you care about the ocean. If you care about your children and grandchildren’s opportunities, you care about the ocean.
As a voter, you can support government in taking action on these important ocean issues. Let’s just make sure we stand up for the ocean, before it is too late.