The world's next biosphere reserve could be right in front of us.
The Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society has been working on an official application to have Howe Sound (Atl'ka7tsem) designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
During the Aug. 28 SLRD board meeting, the regional district once again made its approval of Howe Sound becoming a UNESCO site clear.
The SLRD already signed its support of the initiative in 2016, when the application was first being considered. SLRD board chair Tony Rainbow said the application is now in the formal stage of the process, and the regional district is still onboard.
"If you get that kind of stamp of approval, then it appears in the UNESCO literature, it just raises the profile of this area in terms of international tourism," Rainbow said.
He said the area has already seen an increase in tourism and economic growth since efforts to clean up Howe Sound, particularly around Britannia, began.
Ruth Simons, the biosphere reserve initiative's lead, told The Chief she believes Howe Sound qualifies as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, from its glass sponge reefs, core protected areas and collaboration through the Howe Sound Community Forum.
The communities around Howe Sound, Simons said, "have been looking to have a comprehensive land and marine use plan that takes a holistic view of this region, because it's so divided up in different jurisdictions.
"While it doesn't change anything legally or interfere with rights and titles and laws, it is an aspirational goal that works toward biodiversity, conservation, sustainable development and reconciliation."
The biosphere reserve framework, she said, operates as collaborative governance, "which means bringing people from all the sectors and all around the region together to address how do we advance biodiversity conservation. How do we exhibit sustainable development and be a model for the rest of the world?"
At the Sept. 3 District of Squamish council meeting, councillors voted unanimously in favour of sending a letter of support for the Howe Sound Biosphere Region initiative. The Sunshine Coast Regional District also signed its support earlier this summer.
There are more levels of government left to confirm their support, including the Squamish Nation, Metro Vancouver, BC Parks and DFO, to name a few. The Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society will then have to finalize the submission document.
In a video, former Bowen Island mayor Bob Turner said, he's been part of the initiative for three years. He believes the area has what it takes to become a biosphere reserve.
Find more information about the initiative at howesoundbri.org.
*This story has been updated to clarify the application is for a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It previously stated UNESCO Biosphere.