Great Bear Sea

underwater photo of a school of silver herring fish swimming past a bed of bull kelp. the sun is shining against the surface of the water
Marine protected areas like Gitdisdzu Lugyeks Kitasu Bay, pictured above, help safeguard sensitive ecosystems, support habitat connectivity, and maintain culturally significant harvesting sites. (Photo: Moonfish Media)

Stretching from the northern tip of Vancouver Island up the coast of British Columbia and west to Haida Gwaii, the Great Bear Sea is an ecological and cultural treasure. These waters support an incredible mix of habitats – open ocean, vibrant estuaries, dense kelp forests, expansive coral and sponge beds, deep fjords – which, in turn, sustain connections between marine life and coastal communities.

The Great Bear Sea is located next to the Great Bear Rainforest, where First Nations have worked with partners to protect sensitive old growth forests and secure conservation financing (through Coast Funds) for Guardian programs, conservation projects, and sustainable businesses.

In this part of the world, First Nations’ territories and stewardship responsibilities have always included both land and sea. For millennia, Indigenous peoples have used their knowledge of ecosystems and seasons to sustain the abundance of foods like salmon and eulachon, to support transportation and trade, and to build strong communities and cultures.

Today, overfishing, increased shipping traffic, and climate change are having an impact on the Great Bear Sea and contributing to declines in fish, bird, and shellfish populations – harming the coastal peoples and wildlife that depend on a healthy ocean.

To address these challenges and protect these life-giving seas, First Nations have developed an action plan to create a network of marine protected areas and develop a project finance for permanence (PFP) initiative to help fund stewardship and sustainable economic development in coastal communities.


Marine Protected Areas Network

The Great Bear Coast:

Protected Areas in the Great Bear Sea (pink/purple) and the Great Bear Rainforest (green). (Map courtesy: Nature United)

Working together over many years, First Nations, the Province of British Columbia, and the Government of Canada have developed an Action Plan for a network of marine protected areas in the Great Bear Sea, also known as the Northern Shelf Bioregion. Leaders shared and endorsed the plan in February 2023, at the IMPAC5 marine conservation summit.

The MPA Network Action Plan identifies more than 30,000 square kilometers of new and existing marine protected areas in the Great Bear Sea. By linking these protected areas and managing them as a group, First Nations and Crown governments can:

  • Protect sensitive ecosystems, bringing Canada closer to meeting its commitment to conserve 30% of its lands and waters by 2030.
  • Preserve and connect habitat for fish, sea birds, whales, and other marine life, which can help reverse population declines. In other parts of the world, marine protected areas have helped fish populations to recover, supporting fisheries and improving food security in coastal communities.
  • Steward areas of cultural importance like historical harvesting sites, villages, and sacred places, for the benefit of future generations.
  • Create family-supporting jobs in conservation, marine stewardship and research, ecotourism, sustainable fisheries, and other industries.
  • Adapt to a changing climate by protecting kelp and seagrass, which sequester carbon, and maintaining estuaries and coastal habitats, which buffer communities from flooding and erosion.
  • Demonstrate reconciliation in action through collaborative governance and management in the Great Bear Sea.

Great Bear Sea PFP

To complement the MPA Network, First Nations are developing a project finance for permanence initiative, which will secure funding to support stewardship, conservation, and sustainable economic development in the Great Bear Sea.

Project finance for permanence (PFP) is a conservation finance model, first used in the Great Bear Rainforest, that brings partners, up-front financing, and supporting regulations together to support lasting conservation of a region.

In the Great Bear Rainforest, First Nations have used PFP financing (delivered through Coast Funds) to protect 6.4 million hectares of coastal temperate rainforest, expand and launch 18 Guardian programs, support 1,198 permanent jobs, create and acquire 112 businesses, revitalize languages and culture, and attract $370 million in investments to the coast.

In December 2022 at the COP15 conference on biodiversity, the Government of Canada committed $800 million for four Indigenous-led PFP initiatives – including one in the Great Bear Sea. And, in December 2023, the Province of British Columbia announced a $60-million investment in the Great Bear Sea and the Marine Planning Partnership for the North Pacific Coast (MaPP). First Nations are working to secure additional investments from partners in government, business, and philanthropy.

Resources and Media Releases

Media Releases

Coastal First Nations, Na̲nwak̲olas Council, and Coast Funds Welcome BC’s $60M Investment in the Great Bear Sea
Na̲nwak̲olas Council; Coastal First Nations; Coast Funds. December 5, 2023

B.C. supports collaborative marine conservation, economic development on North Coast
Province of British Columbia. December 5, 2023

Marine Protected Area Network partners endorse plan to protect British Columbia’s North Coast
Na̲nwak̲olas Council; Coastal First Nations; Fisheries and Oceans Canada; Environment and Climate Change Canada; Ministry of Land, Water, and Resource Stewardship (BC). February 5, 2023

First marine refuge within the Northern Shelf Bioregion is established
Mamalilikulla First Nation; Fisheries and Oceans Canada; Ministry of Land, Water, and Resource Stewardship (BC). February 5, 2023

Federal government commits to developing conservation finance model for Great Bear Sea
Na̲nwak̲olas Council; Coastal First Nations. December 7, 2022

Protecting more nature in partnership with Indigenous Peoples
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. December 7, 2022

Further Reading