Potential designation of Howe Sound as UNESCO biosphere reserve expected in 2021

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      Later this year, Canada may get its 19th UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve.

      If all goes well, that recognition will go to a region in the Howe Sound or Átl’ka7tsem in Indigenous language.

      The Howe Sound is a deep fjord extending from West Vancouver to Squamish.

      It is home to glass sponge reefs, a rare kind found only along the west coast of Canada and the U.S.

      “Reef-forming sponges are slow-growing and fragile, with skeletons made of silica, or glass,” Fisheries and Oceans Canada explains online.

      The Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society has spearheaded the initiative to designate 218,723 hectares in the area as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

      According to a summary by the organization, the proposed reserve is composed of 84 percent terrestrial area, and 16 percent marine environments of the Howe Sound.

      Online, UNESCO or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization explains that there are currently 714 biosphere reserves around the world.

      These are “learning places for sustainable development”, and found in 129 countries.

      At present, Canada has 18 UNESCO biosphere reserves.

      “They are sites for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity,” UNESCO explains.

      Moreover, “They are places that provide local solutions to global challenges. Biosphere reserves include terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems. Each site promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use.”

      Biosphere reserves are nominated by national governments. These reserves remain under the jurisdiction of the countries where they are located.

      An information material by the Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society notes that in 2000, Clayoquot Sound and Mt. Arrowsmith on Vancouver Island were designated biosphere regions.

      The climate action committee of Metro Vancouver is scheduled to receive on Friday (January 15) an update about the potential designation of Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

      A summary of the presentation by Ruth Simons of the Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society notes that an international advisory committee will review the submission by the government of Canada.

      The recommendations from the review panel are expected to be known in either April or May.

      A formal UNESCO designation could be announced in the in the fall or winter.

      The summary also cites the global significance of Howe Sound’s glass sponge reefs.

      “Scientists have likened the discovery of glass sponge reefs in B.C. to discovering a herd of dinosaurs on land,” the document states.

      These reefs provide habitat for 84-plus species of fish and invertebrates.

      “They provide essential services for Howe Sound by filtering 17+ billion litres (6,800 Olympic swimming pools) of water every day,” the summary states.

      It notes that the reefs would take “just two hours to pump the equivalent of Metro Vancouver’s daily wastewater volume and they remove 436 kg of total organic carbon from the water each day”. 

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