Southern Gulf Islands

The Southern Gulf Islands (SGI), covers some 1400 sq. kilometers in the Southern Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia. Ecologically, the SGIs are representative of the Strait of Georgia Lowlands, one of the most ecologically at risk natural regions in southern Canada. The Southern Strait of Georgia is among the most productive marine ecosystems in the world, providing habitat to some of the most diverse temperate water marine life in the world of which twenty-two species are considered endangered, threatened or a high conservation priority. Terrestrial ecosystems are equally threatened, with the Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem listed as rare or endangered.

Socially, the SGI supports high levels of commerce such as transportation, commercial and recreational fishing and coastal tourism.  A mild climate and close proximity to major cities attract tourists and full time residents, and the population is expected to grow by 35% by 2020, creating additional pressures. Increasing urbanization and associated economic activity in the region have created stress on both the terrestrial and marine environment, and there is visible evidence of significant habitat alteration and loss of ecologically valuable areas, deteriorating water quality and declining populations of many species. While establishment of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve is a step towards maintaining the ecological diversity of the Southern Gulf Islands, activities both inside and outside park boundaries impact on the ecosystem as a whole.  Some key issues in the Southern Gulf Islands include the high level of private land ownership and management of shared resources, habitat loss, fragmentation and loss of connectivity.

Recognizing the uniqueness of the Southern Gulf Islands,  the Government of British Columbia enacted the Islands Trust Act in 1974 to protect the ‘trust area’, encompassing the Southern Strait of Georgia and SGI. Islands Trust is a land use and planning agency consisting of representation from independent local governments which regulates development in the SGI, and mandated to preserve and protect the trust area and its unique amenities and environment for the benefit of its residents and of the province generally.  This study focuses on Islands Trust which plays a pivotal governance role in the SGI social-ecological system, connecting municipalities, regional districts, improvement districts, the government of British Columbia and other organizations in what could be called a ‘governance system’ for the SGI.

The assessment is being led by Dr. Carleigh Randall, Post Doctoral Associate, Vancouver Island University.

For more information, contact Carleigh Randall: carleigh.randall at  viu.ca

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