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Environmental group pushes for Nanaimo Estuary's inclusion in marine reserve

NANAIMO – Environmental group continues to push to have Nanaimo Estuary included in marine reserve.

Nanaimo needs to push for the Nanaimo River Estuary to be included in the proposed national marine conservation area before the government finalizes the boundaries, a mid-Island environmental group says.

The Mid-Island Sustainability and Stewardship Initiative has advocated to have the estuary included in the National Marine Conservation Area for Georgia Strait since 2002, but stepped up its efforts in 2011 when the government announced proposed boundaries.

“We think there is an absolute need to protect the river and estuary at this time,” said Laurie Gourlay, MISSI president.

The group approached the Islands Trust earlier this year to endorse the inclusion of the Nanaimo Estuary and send that endorsement to the government. Instead, the trust chose not to take any action on MISSI’s request.

Sheila Malcolmson, chairwoman of the Islands Trust, said the Trust council received a staff briefing on the request in June, but no trustee proposed action so there wasn’t a resolution of support for the board to revisit the issue.

“At this point, we want it to move forward,” said Malcolmson.

Gabriola Island trustees pushed hard starting in 2005 to have Gabriola Pass included in the reserve, she added.

In 2011, the Islands Trust also successfully sponsored resolutions supporting the national marine area during the Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities and the Union of B.C. Municipalities meetings.

The campaign was successful.

“The border extended to Gabriola Passage. We were so happy that was agreed to by the federal government,” said Malcolmson. “I am happy with the boundary as it is now.”

The Island Trust council also didn’t want to risk delaying the creation of the marine conservation area with the inclusion of more territory, said Malcolmson. She said there is the possibility of advocating to for expansion once the reserve is established.

“Why wait?” asked Gourlay, adding the government is asking for feedback now, so this is the time to speak up.

Gourlay said MISSI doesn’t want to create any delay and doesn’t believe asking for changes would do that.

It is drafting a letter to send to the federal and provincial governments to inquire whether making a request for expansion would delay the process.

Gourlay said MISSI’s proposed boundary change excludes the Nanaimo port and doesn’t include the entire estuary.

“We don’t want to interfere with the port,” said Gourlay, adding that MISSI hopes to revisit the issue with the Islands Trust and provide more information about its proposal.

For more information on the proposed National Marine Conservation Area Reserve in Georgia Strait, please go to and click on the national marine conservation areas link.


The Islands Trust staff briefing, prepared by trust area services director Lisa Gordon on May 29, listed a number of issues regarding advocating for the inclusion of all the waters surrounding Gabriola Island and the Nanaimo Estuary.

Gordon attended a meeting May 15 with marine conservation area coalition members, which included representatives from Parks Canada. Members informed Gordon that busy harbours are currently excluded from the area and the Nanaimo Estuary was excluded under the same rationale. The briefing also indicates there are management challenges with including a busy harbours and the total size of the conservation area is unlikely to expand so including another area could mean is a loss of protection elsewhere.