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Safe shipping in the Salish Sea: a trans-boundary discussion of an oil spill on International Water Day

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On March 22, 35 participants from First Nations tribes, U.S. tribes, Canadian and American NGOs came together to discuss current and proposed vessel traffic that would ship tar sands and coal through the Salish Sea, and the associated increased risk of an oil spill.

The purpose of this gathering was to build a coalition of Canadian and U.S. partners for the protection of the Salish Sea. Attendees learned about the issues from a trans-boundary perspective, discussed ways to collaborate, and signed the International Treaty to Protect the Sacred.

“What I got out of today was really connecting with so many people from the American side of the border who are as concerned about all the changes that are happening and projects that are being proposed, whether it’s coal or oil. I really got a sense that we are very much on the same page and that we’ll have the opportunity to work together,” said Christianne Wilhelmson, Executive Director with the Georgia Strait Alliance, “We firmly believe that these projects can’t happen in order to build a healthy future. Having American partners on this will only strengthen our ability to protect our coast.”

“I live on Shaw Island in the middle of the Salish Sea. All of these vessels whether they are carrying coal or tar sands or oatmeal or computer parts or all going to be passing through San Juan County, impacting a community that’s completely dependent on clean water, wildlife and healthy shorelines. Today was an affirmation that we stand together for the values that all nations hold dear,” said Stephanie Buffum, FRIENDS of the San Juans’ Executive Director.

“It was very informative for me to understand where the debate is progressing and how we, as a First Nations, can be a part of that conversation,” said Chief Ian Campbell of the Skwxwu7mesh (Squamish) Nation, “These types of strategy sessions and think tanks are really important for us to recognize that we’re not alone, we’re not in isolation, and that there are a lot of synergies we can draw upon and pool these resources to really be effective.”

A multi-nation coalition called the Safe Shipping Alliance of the Salish Sea is being formed with a mission to protect the environmental and economic integrity of the Salish Sea and all that depend on it from adverse maritime impacts. Next steps for this group include working together to assure all significant projects receive full environmental review, informing the public of major changes in maritime trade impacting the Salish Sea, engaging the public in commenting opportunities and other action items, providing cross-border political support for increased shipping safety and monitoring and responding to emerging issues and arguments.

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