Exploring Indigenous life and ecology in Canada’s Gulf Islands

Exploring Indigenous life and ecology in Canada’s Gulf Islands

Submitted by Anthony Hobson, IUCN WCPA

The group is ready to set sail around the Gulf Islands. Photo by Raven August
And we’re off! Photo by Raven August

Usually, after hard work comes the reward. For a group of people attending the Fifth International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC5) in Vancouver in early February 2023, the reward was a short, sharp and stunning look at how melding Indigenous leadership and traditional methods of protecting a marine and coastal environment can create areas of tranquility, closeness to nature, and sustainable use of these areas. All of these aspects seem exemplary in the Southern Gulf Islands, adjacent to Vancouver Island.

Parks Canada and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) brought a group of marine protection professionals and practitioners together on a tour of the Gulf Islands on the South-West Coast of Canada, apparently one of the world’s worst kept secrets as they are a mega-tourist destination for travelers to the area. The group of 22 people, from around the world, met at the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal south of Vancouver, enjoying scenery from the heights of the giant vehicle and passenger ferry as it went from wide bay through windy island narrows towards the tour launch point of Parks Canada Gulf Islands National Park Reserve office in Sidney, BC.

Raven August leading the group. Photo by Caroline Macintosh

The group was shepherded by Parks Canada’s First Nations Coordinator, Raven August, our Indigenous guide and chaperone, from a short safety orientation at Parks Canada’s centre in Sidney, BC, to the small tour boat popping with overhead life jackets and ringed with windows. The day was easily the warmest and sunniest of the whole IMPAC5 week and a half, giving views of spectacular scenery: we saw small and large islands with various seals, birds and other fauna watching us pass. First stop was Russel Island, where evidence of otters and their work on various crabs and other unfortunate crustaceans was everywhere. Professionals mingled over an amazing, much appreciated lunch provided by Raven from what appeared to be a Mary Poppins bag or Tardis, and were fascinated as they learned more about the various professions and work that each other are doing in various parts of the world.


“The challenges we face in marine conservation efforts around the world have more in common than they differ,” says James Gordon, with the National Marine Conservation Area Establishment Directorate at Parks Canada, who was instrumental in getting this tour organised. “Our ability to collaborate, exchange ideas and leverage our collective efforts will significantly improve our chances of success towards our shared goals of marine protection, supporting biodiversity and slowing climate change as demonstrated by this gathering of minds from around the world.”


Photos by Raven August 

One of the memorable and potentially important themes to come out of conversations during the day was how important IMPAC5 was to marine protected area (MPA) professionals. Many work by themselves or in teams of two or three in such fields as being a ranger or research scientist or manager for an MPA, and work with groups who are often ambivalent or even hostile to the existence of the MPA or MPA network. To these workers, IMPAC5 showed that they were not alone, in a very human, personal and physical way. The encouragement and energy felt through the numbers of like-minded people in one place was restorative.

Our knowledgeable tour guide, Meghan Kate Humble, Superintendent of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, continually brought out the importance and integration of the First Nations’ sustainable usage practices on these islands, with evidence of their life and history everywhere. She brought us to a tiny white sand beach on Russel Island, where unnumbered generations of First Nations people have been using their techniques with the tide rise and fall at the beach for shellfish farming. The whiteness of the beach coming from the same shells, recycled as part of the beach, gradually becoming the white sand.

After the last island, Pender Island, gave all aboard a breath-taking sunset over its bay, beach and seascape, it was time to reverse the journey and bond closer by conversing on all the learnings of the day on the bay, and the weeks preparing and attending IMPAC5.

Onward to IMPAC6 in Senegal, where we hope that what has been learned and shared will be reflected by satisfaction at the progress we have made to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework goals -of protecting and restoring the Ocean by 2030, and the effectiveness of Indigenous leadership and increased youth participation.

Photo by Raven August 



#NatureForAll Newsletter

Keep up with #NatureForAll! Subscribe to our newsletter:

We respect your privacy.