Cristina Mittermeier wants to help shine a different light on the Salish Sea.
Mittermeier of SeaLegacy, which is based in Qualicum Beach, has partnered with the Salish Sea Trust to put in an application for the Salish Sea to become a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) World Heritage Site
“What we’re trying to do is find a way to shine a light on the coast of British Columbia that allows us to think about it, not as an industrial site, but as a beautiful, natural, incredible wealthy ecosystem that we can actually develop an economy,” Mittermeier said.
Mittermeier said SeaLegacy, a group of visual storytellers, understands the role the photographers play is empowering other organizations with the use of their images. She said SeaLegacy gets 30-50 requests every week from organizations around the world and the Salish Sea Trust is just one of those groups.
Laurie Gourlay of the Salish Sea Trust said their campaign to have the Salish Sea designated as a world heritage site comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s invitation this past August for Canadians to submit applications for places of historical, cultural and natural significance.
Mittermeier, who has been living on the Island for five years, said she didn’t even know the body of water was called the Salish Sea until fairly recently. She said with this campaign, they want to make people aware that they not only live on the Salish Sea, but that it’s a really rich, important ecosystem.
“When you think about World Heritage Sites, ideas that come to mind are the Pyramids of Egypt or the Galapagos Islands or Antartica,” Mittermeier said. “Well, the Salish Sea qualifies as a world heritage site because it has not only incredible cultural diversity, but also incredible ecosystem values.”
Mittermeier said that there are elements unique to the Salish Sea, such as the resident orca population.
“When you think about Vancouver, the city, it’s the largest urban area that still has an orca population and so as we say yes to things like Kinder Morgan, we better be ready to say goodbye to things like our orcas,” she said. “We’re at a crossroads where we’re going to decide if we’re going to be an industrial province, really focused on industrial projects, or if we’re going to be really super natural British Columbia.”
Mittermeier also said as governments make decisions about whether or not to build pipelines and have more tanker traffic, it bears reminding that communities along the Salish Sea could be working toward developing an economy based on tourism as a world heritage site.
Gourlay said in other UNESCO World Heritage Sites, there’s been a great deal of interest from people around the world who want to visit the site. He also said it leads to the support of small businesses, bumps up the economy and creates protective measures around those sites.
Gourlay said he’s not entirely sure what a UNESCO World Heritage Site would mean specifically for the Salish Sea since it’s different for each site around the world.
“It offers the opportunity for the local public, as well as the local government and provincial and federal in our case, to then become involved,” Gourlay said.
Gourlay said the partners will help develop the concept and the application, such as creating certain basic standards around cultural and natural interests.
Gourlay said they’re putting the application in to Parks Canada for the Jan. 27 deadline, but they have until April to receive letters of support.
For more information, visit www.salishseatrust.ca.