IMPAC5 makes an impact on ocean conservation

Thousands of oceans professionals and leaders from around the world are spreading their message of hope following the Fifth International Marine Protected Area Congress (IMPAC5) in Vancouver earlier this month.

Participants from 123 countries gathered at the Vancouver Convention Centre from February 3 to 9 and were welcomed with prayers and cultural performances by host First Nations, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh). Over 800 presenters shared their expertise throughout the week with a shared goal of charting a course to protect 30 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2030.

“The scale of IMPAC5 was huge, as was the importance of the dialogue, learning and connection that took place,” said Irine Polyzogopoulos, Communications and Development Coordinator for Uu-a-thluk.

A lineup of renowned keynote speakers opened each congress day with their inspiring words. Included in the group were: Cloy-e-iis, Dr. Judith Sayers, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) President, Vancouver Island University Chancellor and member of the Order of Canada; Sylvia Earle, oceanographer, founder and co-chair of Mission Blue and National Geographic Society Explorer at Large; and Cristina Goettsch Mittermeier, co-founder of SeaLegacy and the International League of Conservation Photographers.

As each day of programming unfolded, themes of Marine Protected Area (MPA) management, monitoring technology, funding, capacity building/sharing and case studies emerged, as did conversations around the blue economy. Encompassing those themes was the greater dialogue around the important role Indigenous Peoples are playing, have played and must continue to play in the stewardship of the world’s oceans.

“You can’t have a blue economy unless you have respect for the rights of Indigenous People – unless you have our involvement and consent,” said Sayers in her keynote address.

Indigenous-owned planning firm Alderhill facilitated the Indigenous content that was curated by the Indigenous Working Group and woven throughout IMPAC5. A full-day Indigenous Caucus kicked off the week, with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples from around the world who travelled from as far as Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile) taking part in discussions.   

“We will do our best to ensure your voices are heard,” said Indigenous Leadership Committee member and Coastal First Nations Executive Director, Christine Smith-Martin, following the day’s deliberations.

An Indigenous pavilion in the lower level of the Convention Centre showcased conservation work led by Indigenous Peoples and organizations, while the Indigenous Working Space provided a dedicated area for Indigenous delegates to meet, work or and recharge throughout the Congress.

The Indigenous banquet, which included special performances by Tsatsu Stalqayu (Coastal Wolf Pack) and impromptu culture-sharing moments book-ended the congress and provided Indigenous delegates a chance to connect over a tasty steelhead dinner.

In addition to providing an opportunity for information and culture sharing, the Congress was also used as a platform for announcements.

The NTC, Haida, Pacheedaht and Quatsino First Nations, along with the Government of Canada, announced a Memorandum of Understanding agreement to cooperatively manage the proposed Tang.ɢwan · ḥačxʷiqak · Tsig̱is MPA. The 133,019 square-kilometre area, located on average 150 kilometres off the west coast of Vancouver Island, is set to be published on Canada Gazette Part 1 on February 18.

Coastal First Nations, along with the Canadian and B.C. Governments announced a network of MPA’s and action plan for the Northern Shelf Bioregion.

Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray announced a $46.5 million federal investment in deep sea research over the next five years. Data gathered will assist the government in understanding how better to support deep ocean ecosystems and to ultimately make more informed decisions about their protection and future resource management.

On February 9 – the final day of IMPAC5 that saw leaders gather by invitation at the Congress’ Leadership Forum to strengthen the collaboration required to reach marine conservation targets – the Canadian Government announced that seabed mining would not be permitted in domestic waters in the absence of a domestic legal framework to regulate the activity.

The announcements, commitments and relationship-building resulting from IMPAC5 provide hope for ocean conservation.

According to Olivia Livingstone, a Liberian member of the IMPAC5 Young Professionals Committee, “There is still hope for the ocean … our job is to retain and build this hope by protecting our beloved ocean for the Indigenous Peoples, for the fisher folks, for the divers, surfers, fish lovers and every friend of the ocean.”

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