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Stop talking, start acting on national marine park off the southern island

Enough studies and talks; it's time to establish a national marine conservation park along Vancouver Island.

That's the message from frustrated members of the Vancouver Island and Coast Conservation Society demanding protected areas, that would include waters off Cowichan.

"Fourteen years of study and consultation should be enough to finalize a federal-provincial agreement," reads Friday's release by VICCS president Laurie Gourlay.

"It's time to honour the promise and declare the Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area."

Planning for the marine conservation area began in 2002.

In 2011, new boundary announcements by federal and B.C. environment ministers were greeted enthusiastically.

"It's just a few days after World Oceans Day, and we're reminded of the many major economic benefits from establishing a National Marine Conservation Area in the waters of the Salish Sea, along Vancouver Island," says Gourlay.

"Revitalization of our fisheries, marine and habitat renewal, waterfront and shoreline restoration would follow - and all offer proven returns to the local economy."

Canada promised marine protected areas at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, from sea to sea to sea, notes Gourlay, and did so again in 1997 — passing a comprehensive Oceans Act that made Canada the envy of all nations.

"But we have yet to live up to that promise," she says, "and recent reports have been alarming in terms of species die-off, habitat loss, and the consequences that a failure to protect the environment has on our long-term economic and social well being."

Species losses include vast, mystery star-fish deaths through from Alaska to Cowichan, southward.

The Vancouver Island and Coast Conservation Society contends Canada would benefit from protection of the rich habitat and fisheries of the proposed Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area.

"VICCS argues a series of pocket marine reserves would foster healthy coastal communities along the west coast of B.C., and throughout the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island," Gourlay says.

"Parks Canada began the process of protecting the southern Strait of Georgia more than a decade ago," adds VICCS director Gillian Butler, waiting for action.

Now, VICCS is asking Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Christy Clark to put declaration of the Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area on their summer priority list, and to sign an agreement by fall.

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