Race Rocks Marine Protected Area Designation: A Social, Economic, and Cultural Overview

Posted November 15, 2010 | Categories : 97,BC Parks,Federal Stewardship,Marine Reserves,Reports |

 Ryan J Murphy and Raïsa Mirza Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific, Victoria, BC :Race Rocks Marine Protected Area Designation: A Social, Economic, and Cultural Overview

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An area of interest (AOI) approximating the current Rockfish Conservation Area around the Race Rocks archipelago is being assessed as a potential marine protected area (MPA) under Canada’s Oceans Act (Figure 1). Race Rocks represents a transition zone between the Pacific Ocean and coastal waters and is renowned for its exceptional marine biodiversity and biological productivity. The AOI represents important habitat for threatened marine mammal, seabird, fish, and invertebrate species. Establishment of a MPA at Race Rocks will be the first in what is hoped to be network of coastal marine protected areas (BC Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection 2002).

Protection and conservation measures have been in place for the terrestrial ecosystem (nine islets) and the ocean bottom (to 20 fathoms) since 1980 when the Province of British Columbia designated Race Rocks as an ecological reserve under the Ecological Reserves Act. The ecological reserve was established to protect a provincially significant high current ecosystem as a result of a proposal by Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific (the College); the College has managed the reserve since 1997 and has maintained a human presence to monitor the ecosystem and provide educational and research opportunities. The purpose of the ecological reserve was “to preserve for educational and research purposes, one of B.C.’s most biologically rich, marine ecosystems” (Fletcher et al. 1980). All activities in the ecological reserve are subject to review and approval by an Operating Committee comprising BC Parks and the College.

MPA designation of Race Rocks will provide additional protection of the high biodiversity of marine species and their habitat as well as further support ongoing resource management, public education, research and environmental monitoring at the ecological reserve. Resource preservation issues such as the protection of critical habitat for Rockfish (Sebastes spp.), Northern abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana), Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) and other species identified under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) are current management priorities.

Both federal and provincial governments have committed to a Marine Protected Areas Strategy to establish a system of marine protected areas including the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve (BC Ministry of Water, Land, and Air Protection, 2002). However, the diverse marine environments of the Pacific Coast are not well represented in current Canadian protected areas systems.