Enhancing Emergency Response on the Central Coast

Whale tails stick out of the water in Kitasoo/Xai'xais Territory.

With thousands of kilometres of rugged coastlines, the Central Coast’s waterways are home to abundant marine life and numerous traditional harvesting areas.

These marine ecosystems and culturally significant areas are invaluable to our Nations, and they are at-risk from shipping accidents and fuel spills. Past marine accidents, such as the Nathan E. Stewart and Queen of the North, show that catastrophes can occur far from large ports where federal and provincial marine emergency response capacity exists. We also know that even relatively small-scale spills can have lasting negative impacts on coastal communities and livelihoods.

For Central Coast Nations, increasing response preparedness and capacity at the local level is imperative because First Nations’ mariners, Guardian Watchmen and other community members are often the first on scene at marine accidents. Timely and efficient response to any incident can mean the difference between a minor clean-up and a devastating event that can lead to loss of life or lasting economic and environmental impacts.

Over the past year, Central Coast Nations increased engagement with both federal and provincial government agencies in efforts to advance more effective marine response capabilities to protect coastal territories. The efforts included collaborative initiatives aiming to prevent marine accidents and spills, while developing First Nations’ response capacity for when incidents do occur.

Signed in 2018 by First Nations and the federal government, the Reconciliation Framework Agreement for Bioregional Oceans Management and Protection, or RFA, helps guide the collaborative response planning, which involves multiple organizations from First Nations and federal and provincial governments.

As part of the planning process, each Nation initiated the development of local Geographic Response Strategies. Elders, harvesters and other community members provided critical input for identifying Areas of Concern (AOC) where increased response capacity and protections are needed. Community workshops held in Bella Bella, Bella Coola, Rivers Inlet and Klemtu resulted in 271 AOCs being identified in the Central Coast.

The AOCs were determined using a range of criteria, including ecological or cultural sensitivity or vulnerability to spills, proximity to shipping traffic or large ports, and access to resources and staging areas. The Nations’ stewardship staff are completing the field work and writing the Geographic Response Strategies for each AOC, and this work will continue to 2022.

Community-based and regional response planning efforts to enhance response capacity are necessary to minimize the effects of spills on the Central Coast. CCIRA will continue to assist and facilitate communities to develop, complete and implement the response plans.

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