An area known for its rich Indigenous cultural significance, biodiversity and distinct geography has been given the prestigious designation of becoming Canada’s 19th UNESCO Biosphere Region
UNESCO Biosphere Regions are areas of global ecological significance with a commitment towards striving for sustainability. They bring people together for the purpose of finding ways to live and work in harmony with nature. The designation of Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound (AHSBR) was announced by the International Coordinating Council for the Man and Biosphere Programme on September 15, in recognition of the region's practices towards the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable development.Steve QuaneAccording to the press release, while many places in the world are suffering losses of habitat and biodiversity, the AHSBR is an “international showcase for how regional coordination can create a place for humanity and nature to thrive.”
The community-managed Biosphere Region is home to ancient glass sponge reefs, which provide refuge for other animals and filter bacteria from the seawater. The region's mountain ranges include ancient glaciers and two-million-year-old volcanoes, allowing scientific and archeological researchers to explore data of past Ice Ages and the present impact of climate change on the region.Adam TaylorThe Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound region is located on the territories of the Coast Salish people, spanning over 218,723 hectares of land and sea. The core protected area covers five B.C. provincial parks, one B.C. provincial conservancy, and a number of marine refuges.
Including renowned landmarks such as Mt. Garibaldi (Nch’ḵay̓), the region’s boundaries begin near Point Atkinson (Sḵ’íw̓itsut) in West Vancouver, running north to Black Tusk (T’eḵt’aḵmúy̓in tl’a In7iny̓áx̱a7en) near Whistler, and as far west as Gower Point on the Sunshine Coast.
On the area being named a UNESCO Biosphere Region, Joyce Williams, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw councillor and co-chair of Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society Board shares, “My hope is that it will effectively bring all communities in Átl’ka7tsem together for effective decision-making but also to help people get out on the land. Building that connection, to the territory and the land, will help people better honour and to respect the environment but also the life that lives in that environment. Átl’ka7tsem is really about beauty and hope, as much as it is about sustainable development.”
The AHSBR area is ideally positioned for scientific research and educational opportunities due to its proximity to Metro Vancouver, four major universities and 14 youth camps. The region is abundant with biodiversity, but it hasn’t always been this way—it has only seen recovery over the last two decades after over a century of environmental degradation. The valuable and fragile state of this region warrants significant efforts of protection.Rich Duncan“This Biosphere Region exists to promote conservation and sustainable development in our area for generations to come,” says Ruth Simons, lead, Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society. “This designation, five years in the making, is really a testament to the hard work, collaboration and consensus-building efforts of our community. We plan to carry this momentum forward as we reconvene all partners to develop the long-term vision for Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound, leveraging UNESCO’s powerful international network of regions.”
The AHSBR is set to continue moving towards a low-carbon future paved by education, conservation and sustainable developments, mobilizing the community to find local solutions to the environmental challenges caused around the world by climate change.
“The designation of Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound fills me with optimism, providing new momentum to continue our work together to create a sustainable future for the Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound region. It also represents the collaborative and tireless efforts of individuals, organizations, governments and First Nations,” says Karen Elliott, district of Squamish mayor.
“The climate emergency is one of our greatest challenges and the Alt'ka7tsem/Howe Sound Biosphere Region designation will help us work with partners regionally to develop the solutions we need. The designation also amplifies the significance of our local environment and showcases to the world our region's incredible beauty, biodiversity and cultural richness. Biosphere Regions have the unique ability to bring people together through common ground, based on a shared vision and goal. I look forward to Squamish playing an active role in the collaborative effort to create a sustainable future for the Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound region.”Wayne Kaulbach