Hussh | Indigenous expertise creates new Marine Protected Areas

Indigenous expertise creates new Marine Protected Areas

In recent weeks, Indigenous peoples in North America have scored two major victories that have significant implications for both climate and biodiversity.

The first win was the announcement of a new network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) on Canada’s West Coast. These areas of the ocean restrict human activities to protect and preserve marine ecosystems, maintain biodiversity, and support local fishing communities. Additionally, these coastal ecosystems and wetlands store vast amounts of carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, exacerbating the planet’s already dire climate crisis.

This impressive network of MPAs is the result of over ten years of collaborative work between 15 First Nations, the governments of Canada, and the province of British Columbia. The Great Bear Sea MPA, stretching from north of Vancouver Island all the way up to Alaska, is a landmark achievement. “This is the first time in history—and the Great Bear Sea is the first place in the world—that multiple Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments have united together to advance a network of marine protected areas at this scale, built on a foundation of world-leading ecological standards and Indigenous cultural and scientific knowledge,” says Hadley Archer from Nature United, the Canadian affiliate of The Nature Conservancy.

The second significant victory was the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to veto the Pebble Mine project in the Bristol Bay Region of Alaska. The mine, which would have been a gold and copper mine situated near the headwaters of Bristol Bay, is home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. Local Indigenous groups, who have been opposed to the project since its inception some twenty years ago, hailed this win.

“We want to be able to protect our lands and waters into the future, for our future generations and for the people that are to come after us, so they can continue being Yup’ik, Dena’ina and Alutiiq for generations to come,” said Alannah Hurley, a Yup’ik commercial and subsistence fisher who is the executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay.

Both of these victories are significant, not only for the Indigenous groups who fought tirelessly for them but also for the larger movement to protect the planet’s ecosystems and biodiversity. These wins offer hope that meaningful progress can be made, even in the face of daunting challenges like climate change and ecological degradation.