Bras d’Or Lake: Canada’s Newest Biosphere Reserve

From the Canadian Commission for UNESCO‘s official announcement yesterday:

Canada welcomes its 16th Biosphere Reserve, as Bras d’Or Lake, Nova Scotia, is designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Biosphere Reserves are living laboratories of sustainable development, where local communities choose to take the challenge to protect biodiversity while fostering economic and social development. The World Network of Biosphere Reserves now numbers 580 sites in 114 countries.

This new Biosphere Reserve includes the complete watershed of Bras d’Or Lake, a salt-water estuary that constitutes a true inland sea. This estuary has unique oceanographic and biological characteristics as it contains both species typical of Arctic waters and of warm subtropical oceans, living within a few hundred meters of one another.

UNESCO’s designation of this site is the result of a highly collaborative process that started in 2005, involving First Nation representatives, provincial and federal government agencies, academics, and the nearly 14 000 citizens of the region. This process led to the development of a comprehensive management plan for the lake, to the creation of new jobs and encouraging business opportunities, while respecting the principles of sustainable development.

More at the Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve Association website

Bras d’Or CEPI

The Bras d’Or CEPI (Collaborative Environmental Planning Initiative) arose in 2003 in response to the First Nation Chiefs in Cape Breton requesting the development of an overall management plan for the Bras d’Or Lake and watershed lands, to addresses the key environmental issues of forestry, water, land use, invasive marine species, and declining fish stocks.

A fundamental part of CEPI’s process is the concept of ‘Two-Eyed Seeing’, the practice of approaching from Indigenous and Western Scientific perspectives without privileging one over the other.

Indigenous Science emphasizes reciprocity and relationship, reverence and ritual, responsibility and respect (and apparently alliteration). The Western Scientific Method is about making and testing hypotheses, collecting and analyzing data, and constructing explanatory and predictive models and theories.

A defining difference between the two world views is that Aboriginal peoples believe their ancestors were right on most things (hence an emphasis on tradition), whereas Westerners believe their ancestors were either mostly wrong or their ideas can always be improved upon (hence an emphasis on testing and falsifiability). But the point of ‘Two-Eyed Seeing’ seems to be that practitioners themselves benefit by weaving the two perspectives together (a distinctly Indigenous concept) rather than that one perspective is improved by incorporating elements from the other (which would constitute a Eurocentric privileging of “progress” over tradition).

While there are obvious differences in the two belief systems — such as whether land and knowledge is held in trust for future generations or can be owned and exploited for personal gain — there are equally obvious points of consensus. Both knowledge systems start with observations of the natural world (pattern recognition) and are expressed in the stories we tell about our interactions with and within that world. (More on ‘Two-Eyed Seeing’, including a presentation by Albert Marshall of the Eskasoni Mi’kmaq First Nation and Dr. Cheryl Bartlett of CBU)

Bras D’Or Lakes Biosphere Association

The Bras d’Or lakes may be deemed a biosphere reserve if the Canadian Commission for UNESCO accepts the nomination document submitted today by the Bras d’Or Lakes Biosphere Reserve Association (BLBRA).

A biosphere reserve is an area which demonstrates a balanced relationship between humans and the environment. It’s an enlightened approach to sustainability, in that it doesn’t exclusively prioritize the so-called ‘natural’ environment over the socio-economic human one – which is no less natural.

I designed with this balance in mind. The aesthetic is “wilderness austerity”; the functionality is opposable-thumb-friendly.

What’s interesting about the designation is that it doesn’t confer any special powers to a governing organization over the area. The principal benefit is international recognition. And the main goal is education and the promotion of sustainable development – in a way that includes all those with an interest in the area:

  • The Biosphere Reserve may chose to expand the scope of existing conservation, research, monitoring, and education projects.
  • Local students might become more involved in research and monitoring projects.
  • College and university students could carry out projects in areas such as tourism or community development and ecosystem studies.
  • Governments, corporations and other agencies could help to finance these projects.

There are over 550 biosphere reserves in over a hundred countries, including 15 in Canada.