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SOS: Save Our Seabirds

Rugged, raw and remote — the Scott Islands are a chain of five islands just off the northwest tip of Vancouver Island.

Rugged, raw and remote — the Scott Islands are a chain of five islands just off the northwest tip of Vancouver Island. It’s not exactly the kind of place to take an evening stroll. Crashing waves, high winds and treacherous rocky cliffs keep most humans away.

Yet, the Islands teem with life — of the feathered kind. Over two million seabirds call the Islands home, the largest concentration of seabirds in the eastern North Pacific, south of Alaska. But how long will this abundance last?

Because the Scott Islands harbour nationally and globally significant seabird populations, three of the Islands are protected as ecological reserves. While this helps to safeguard nesting sites, the surrounding waters, where seabirds spend up to 95 per cent of their lives, have no protection. It’s like giving you a bodyguard, but only for when you’re in the bathroom.

Just as you’re vulnerable outside the john, seabirds are harmed in the oceans surrounding the Scott Islands: They choke on fishing gear, and bottom-trawling scrapes away their food supply. Oil pollution from ships and floating plastic waste add insult to injury.

For seabirds to survive this onslaught of threats, protection of the land and sea must go hand in hand. By shielding the waters from harmful activities, we also protect one of the largest Steller sea lion colonies in the world, and the many endangered marine mammals that visit the Islands, including orcas, and blue and sei whales.

Canada has made some steps towards protecting the waters, but we need to quicken the pace. Waiting too long would tarnish this provincial, national, and global treasure.

Feathered facts
• The Scott Islands are home to 70 per cent of the national population and 55 per cent of the global population of Cassin’s Auklets.
• 90 per cent of the national population of tufted puffins breed on the Scott Islands.
• The Scott Islands have been declared as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by Birdlife International.
• Introduced rats, raccoons and mink have wiped out seabird colonies on two of the Scott Islands.

– Kai Chan is an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair at the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability (IRES) at UBC; Veronica Lo is the Marine Conservation Planning Coordinator for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, B.C. Chapter; vancouverletters@metronews.ca.

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