The surrender marks an important milestone in protecting globally unique glass sponge reefs and critical seabird habitat – for now.
VANCOUVER/UNCEDED xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (MUSQUEAM), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (SQUAMISH) AND səlilwətaɬ (TSLEIL-WAUTUTH) TERRITORIES: WWF-Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation welcome the news that Chevron Canada Limited has relinquished 19 offshore oil and gas exploration permits within sensitive marine areas on Canada’s west coast. The two conservation organizations, represented by Ecojustice lawyers, disputed these permits in a court challenge launched in July 2022.
These permits lay within the Hecate Strait/Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area and the Scott Islands Marine National Wildlife Area. The rare and ancient reefs are the largest among several others found along the coast of B.C. and Alaska. Collectively these reefs remove between 136 and 317 tonnes of CO2 daily. The Scott Islands represent one of the most diverse marine ecosystems on Canada’s west coast, supporting the coast’s highest concentration of breeding seabirds.
The permits, granted more than 50 years ago, have been a cause of grave concern for the environmental conservation groups, who launched a court challenge after efforts to encourage the voluntary surrender of the permits were unsuccessful. Following Chevron’s surrender, the groups have discontinued the legal challenge, which never proceeded to a full hearing.
While this marks an important milestone for the protection of these two areas, Canada’s coast continues to face ongoing risk from potential oil and gas projects. The government continues to treat similar exploratory permits as valid in other areas of the British Columbia offshore.
Canada made recent commitments at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) and the International Marine Protected Area Congress (IMPAC5) to be a leader in conservation and halt and reverse biodiversity loss. The groups call on industry and the government to demonstrate their commitment to marine protection by relinquishing or cancelling the remaining permits, which were not at issue in the discontinued legal challenge.
Jay Ritchlin, Director General for Western Canada and Nature Programs Director, David Suzuki Foundation, says:
“We welcome this win for marine protected areas in western Canada and continue to focus on the work remaining to protect the coasts and climate from oil and gas threats,” “Biodiversity in the ocean is under threat and the world’s climate is under stress. It’s past time for us to protect biologically sensitive areas and stop new oil and gas developments.”
Megan Leslie, President and CEO, WWF-Canada, says:
“Chevron’s relinquishment of these permits is an important victory for at-risk wildlife in this sensitive marine region. Unfortunately, there are still too many examples of unlawful old permits for oil and gas exploration that pose a threat to marine protected areas designated before 2019. We hope announcements like this will encourage further voluntary relinquishments and lead Canada to extinguish all such permits.”
Ian Miron, Staff Lawyer, Ecojustice, says:
“We are pleased that these permits have been taken off the books. This outcome – which leaves the lawfulness of the government’s policy of extending the lifespan of the permits for another day – removes a threat to the full protection of these two important and unique areas and represents an important win for conservation.
Scott Islands Marine National Wildlife Area
Nineteen of the disputed permits, including one previously relinquished by ExxonMobil, lay within the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area, which surrounds an archipelago of five unique islands off the northwest tip of Vancouver Island. This region supports the highest concentration of breeding seabirds on Canada’s Pacific Coast.
The Wildlife Area attracts between 5 and 10 million migratory birds each year and provides key nesting habitat to 40 per cent of B.C.’s seabirds, including many listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act, such as the short-tailed albatross and the marbled murrelet.
The marine area around the Scott Islands is also recognized by Fisheries and Oceans Canada as an Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area, representing one of the most diverse marine ecosystems on Canada’s West Coast.
Hecate Strait/Queen Charlotte Glass Sponge Reef Marine Protected Area
One permit lay within the Hecate Strait/Queen Charlotte Glass Sponge Reef Marine Protected Area, located between Haida Gwaii and the mainland of British Columbia. The reef is home to rare large colonies of glass sponges estimated to be 9,000 years old.
Glass sponge reefs, mostly unique to British Columbia, are an integral part of a healthy marine habitat. These reefs provide shelter for marine life including rockfish and shrimp, store carbon on the ocean floor, filter bacteria out of the water, and fertilize the ocean. These special ecosystems support thriving culture and livelihoods for coastal communities.
The David Suzuki Foundation is a leading Canadian environmental non-profit organization, founded in 1990. We operate in English and French, with offices in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. We collaborate with all people in Canada, including First Nations leadership and communities, governments, businesses, and individuals to find solutions to create a sustainable Canada through scientific research, traditional ecological knowledge, communications and public engagement, and innovative policy and legal solutions. Our mission is to protect nature’s diversity and the well-being of all life, now and for the future.
World Wildlife Fund Canada is committed to equitable and effective conservation actions that restore nature, reverse wildlife loss and fight climate change. We draw on scientific analysis and Indigenous guidance to ensure all our efforts connect to a single goal: a future where wildlife, nature and people thrive. For more information visit wwf.ca.
Ecojustice uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment. Its strategic, public interest lawsuits and advocacy lead to precedent-setting court decisions, law, and policy that deliver lasting solutions to Canada’s most urgent environmental problems. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, Ecojustice operates offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax.