Taking Care of Ts’aay’imts: Multi-level Governance of Eelgrass as a Blue Carbon Ecosystem




Woodbury, Lilly

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Governance is consistently cited as one of the major challenges to achieving conservation objectives. This observation applies to the current regulatory and policy landscape in British Columbia (BC) for blue carbon ecosystems (BCEs) composed of eelgrass meadows, kelp forests and salt marshes. Despite their profound ecological productivity and cultural importance to coastal First Nations, they are among the most rapidly disappearing environments on the planet. Their destruction is directly caused by industrial activities and associated externalities, colonial urban development, as well as the absence of strong state coastal regulations and policies. I address the health of BCEs and their communities by examining Indigenous governance for eelgrass using a multi-level governance (MLG) framework. Applying qualitative methods, I worked with the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation (Tla-o-qui-aht) as a research partner to understand how to fortify their authority in the marine environment of their Tribal Parks. Using a community-based participatory approach, including interviews, policy and document analysis, I found that strengthening Indigenous governance is a prerequisite to seeking an MLG arrangement for improved social-cultural-ecological outcomes like eelgrass protection. The research identified four interrelated strategies that Tla-o-qui-aht can use to enhance their authority: first, Tla-o-qui-aht can incorporate BCEs into their Allies Program; second, they can push for state government legislation recognizing Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas as protected areas; third, they can establish government-to-government agreements for the marine environment and/or BCEs specifically, and fourth; they can establish an Aquatic Working Group that will serve as a collaborative mechanism for marine planning and achieving blue carbon objectives. The implications of this research are two-fold: first, it identifies pathways, considerations and technical actions that Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation leadership can take to revitalize eelgrass, continue scaling their Tribal Parks and continue growing a conservation economy on the central west coast of Vancouver Island; and second: it contributes a territorial focus and intergenerational inclusion to the theory of MLG.



Indigenous governance, Marine Governance, Marine Management, Multi-level Governance, Eelgrass, Blue Carbon, Multi-jurisdiction, Marine Policy