A treasure too valuable to waste — our shorelines

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What do you want for New Brunswick’s 5,500 kilometres of precious coastline on this World Oceans Day?

I think New Brunswickers want healthy shores and waters, and prosperous coastal communities, where development proceeds within a plan that protects public and environmental health.

The good news for World Oceans Day is that we’re part way there on our journey to protect our shorelines.

The 2002 provincial coastal protection strategy, while a bit outdated now, hits most of the correct targets. It recognizes the value of tourism and the inshore fisheries overall and the contribution they both make to N.B.’s bottom line. It acknowledges the role our bays, adjacent wetlands and salt marshes play both by reducing harmful bacteria runoff into the ocean and insulating us from severe storms.

The bad news is that this once bright light of smart public policy mostly sits on the shelf, a paper document with no weight in law.

A comprehensive set of coastal protection laws is the most prudent and efficient way to ensure that our coastline and waters — from the Bay of Chaleur, along the Northumberland Strait to the Bay of Fundy — remain an important contributor to New Brunswick’s long term economic development.

What would this comprehensive set of laws look like? It would include a water classification system that establishes the scientific baseline for ecological health and sets out measures to ensure water quality never falls below this threshold.  

It would include wider buffer zones along wetlands and salt marshes, so we’re not stripping our shorelines of the natural protections and ecosystem services they provide for our coastal towns and villages and for wildlife habitat.  

The investments announced by the provincial and federal governments last month are a good first step toward cleaning up the waters immediately surrounding Parlee Beach in the Shediac Bay watershed, but we need to extend our focus to include the entire eastern coastline.

Smart public policy for coastal health protection needs to have a healthy dose of  precaution, where governments — local, provincial and federal —  err on the side of caution when making infrastructure and development decisions that could affect people’s health and the health of our environment. This not only helps ensure the integrity of the whole system, it keeps costs down in the event additional corrective measures need to be taken.  

And we don’t have to look far to see these types of protections in action. Our neighbours to the south, for example, in the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and right next door in Maine, protect the important coastal ecosystems and the people who rely upon them with strict, comprehensive laws.

New Brunswickers love our water, our ocean, our forests and beaches — it’s something inherent to who we are as a people.

This year, for World Oceans Day, my wish is for us to turn that love we have for the beautiful place we call home into smart laws and policies that make us proud of the legacy we’ll leave for many generations of New Brunswickers to come.