Since the establishment of its Marine Program in 1990, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick has remained the leading authority on healthy ecosystems in the Bay of Fundy and marine environments along the coast of New Brunswick and into the Gulf of Maine.
The Conservation Council was the first to raise widespread awareness among citizens, other environmental organizations, and government institutions to the threats of pollution and other challenges facing the region’s marine habitats, and through the continuous, focused attention of its Marine Program, has been key to advancing solutions and superior pollution controls for the past 25 years.
WHALES, WATER, AND THE BAY OF FUNDY
It was a deep appreciation for the wonders of the Bay of Fundy — and a growing concern about its treatment by industry — that sparked the Conservation Council’s Marine Program.
Bordered by New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the State of Maine, the Bay of Fundy is the lifeblood of coastal communities on both sides of the border, supporting thousands of jobs in fisheries and tourism and serving as a critical food basket for the Gulf of Maine system.
Featuring the world’s highest tides, sprawling salt marshes, and rich upwelling zones, the bay is home to an abundance of dolphins, porpoise, fish and seal, vast swathes of undeveloped shoreline supporting more than one million migratory shorebirds each year, some of the largest-known Horse Mussel reefs in the world, and up to 12 species of whales, including the North Atlantic Right whale – one of the most endangered on the planet.
And yet, for decades, this critical environment went without strong protections to keep it healthy. Pollution discharge hotspots wrapped the coastline of the bay, industrial development and the spread of tidal barriers caused severe habitat loss, and a fisheries crisis gripped many communities dependent on the Bay of Fundy-Gulf of Maine system.
The Marine Program at the Conservation Council has addressed these issues through a combination of rigorous research, the development of meaningful relationships with key groups like fishermen and fisheries associations, government agencies and departments, coastal communities and foundations devoted to the preservation and restoration of natural habitats, and through the dedication of staff to achieve results over time.
CLEANING UP A CRITICAL SYSTEM
One off the most successful and longest-running components of the Marine Program is its work on pollution in the Bay of Fundy.
In 1994, we released Turning The Tide, a major report that marked the first comprehensive analysis of the health of the bay’s ecosystem, identifying major point sources of pollution and firmly putting the problem on the radar of policy-makers, fishermen, and citizens.
Over the years – under consistent pressure from the Marine Program – the pollution point sources have been treated or no longer operate. One of the largest, more significant treatments involved the cleanup of sewage in the Saint John Harbour, a decades-long campaign that was spearheaded by the Conservation Council’s work.
The Fundy Baykeeper, a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, was added to the program in 2003 to conduct on-the-water research and monitoring in the Bay of Fundy, remove large debris from the water and coastline, and work with community members and fisheries groups to promote a healthy marine environment.
SUSTAINABLE FISHERIES FOR SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES
Building these strong relationships has positioned the Marine Program to play a pivotal role in monitoring the health of fisheries and working with stakeholders to determine responsible methods of managing marine resources.
When a fisheries crisis resulted in the 1992 Northern cod moratorium, the Conservation Council explained to communities how it happened and offered alternative management models through the publication of Beyond Crisis In The Fisheries: A Proposal for Community-based Ecological Fisheries Management.
The work was just one example of the Conservation Council acting as a convener to get the scientific community and fishermen associations in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Maine working together around the concept of creating sustainable fisheries for sustainable communities.
When commercial fish farms flooded the Bay of Fundy by the hundreds in the 80s, the Conservation Council was the first organization in the region to advocate for sustainable aquaculture practices and, looking to the crisis then crippling Norway’s waters, warned what would happen if the industry continued without reasoned regulation in the bay.
Over the years, program staff have cultivated a resident expertise on the science surrounding the industry – publishing two major reports outlining the problems and potential solutions to aquaculture in New Brunswick’s coastal waters – and remain active in monitoring current practices and promoting responsible alternatives.
RESTORING HABITAT LOSS
Another instrumental contribution of the Marine Program has been its work assessing the loss of critical habitats and identifying opportunities to restore these ecologically-significant areas in the Bay of Fundy and along the eastern coast of New Brunswick.
Our research into tidal barriers initiated several river restoration projects in the province, with the Marine Program enjoying recent collective wins on the Petitcodiac River and seeing return of the gaspereaux fish species into the St. Croix River.
In the mid ‘90s, the Conservation Council collaborated with two U.S. foundations on a major project to evaluate and restore estuaries in the Canadian Gulf of Maine. It led to us launching the decade-long campaign to have the last ecologically-intact estuary in the Bay of Fundy designated as a Marine Protected Area, an effort that involved collaboration with several regional fisheries associations and government departments, and won approval in 2006.
Every year since, the Fundy Baykeeper has organized a public paddling trip through the Musquash Estuary to give new visitors a chance to celebrate the richness of life in our salt marshes and grow a deeper appreciation of the need for their protection.
THE NEXT CHAPTERS ARE STILL BEING WRITTEN
These are just some of the campaigns and projects undertaken during a quarter-century of the Marine Program at the Conservation Council. There are many more stories to tell, and plenty still to come.
As program founder, Janice Harvey, put it: “Victories come at the end of 10 years. It often takes that long, and it has to be sustained. That’s the benefit of having a long-standing organization like the Conservation Council, with the continuity and consistency and persistence to just keep at it until you get what is needed.”