A rising tide lifts all boats

Why marine protection and protecting Canada’s hope spots are philanthropy’s next wave

By Sarah Margolius and Darcy Dobell

A year ago, in the waters off the west coast of Canada, a female killer whale known as J-35 carried her dead newborn and undertook an unprecedented “tour of grief” that captured global attention.  The heartbreaking vigil ended 17 days later, when the orca finally released its dead baby. It was a terrible loss to a population of killer whales so critically endangered that only 73 remain.

The media coverage testified to the public’s increasing concern about the health of marine and coastal habitats. Key to sustaining life on earth, these ecosystems are the subject of marches, shoreline cleanups and citizen-science initiatives. Many of the barriers that have hampered marine conservation efforts in the past – knowledge deficits, lack of legislation and policies, under-resourcing of programs – are falling away.

Hunters in Sanikluaq at a local Polynya. Photo: Joel Heath/Arctic Eider Society

A continued revolution in thinking, funding and action is needed to rebuild, protect, and sustain marine ecosystems to avert their collapse. The Government of Canada, in partnership with the Qikigtani Inuit Association and the Government of Nunavut, recently designated Tuvaijuittuq Marine Protected Area in Nunavut, bringing our total protected oceans and coastal areas to almost 14%. Since scientists say at least 30% of the world’s oceans must be protected by 2030, Canada is almost halfway there.

Photo: Whale Point

Despite momentum, the world’s oceans have received less than 1% of all philanthropic funding since 2009 making their protection and management the least funded Sustainable Development Goal. In Canada, of the total philanthropic funding directed to environmental issues, just 13% are focused on coastal and marine ecosystems[1].  

A new philanthropic initiative aims to support and expand the community of ocean funders. “The Oceans Collaborative grew out of an awareness that powerful solutions for our climate and our planet must involve strategies to protect, restore and steward marine ecosystems,” says Pegi Dover, Executive Director of Canadian Environmental Grantmakers’ Network (CEGN). “This exciting new initiative makes it easier for our members to achieve greater scale and impact with their investment. We welcome the interest and participation of additional funders.”

Hope spots are areas of the oceans which offer extraordinary returns on conservation investment and deliver multiple environmental and social benefits. Canada’s Arctic fits the bill, with 55% of its waters considered ecologically and biologically significant, and much of it managed collaboratively between the Crown and Inuit peoples.

CEGN’s Oceans Collaborative has taken note. Among its first grantees is an organization called the Arctic Eider Society that won a Google Impact award for its project SIKU: the Indigenous Knowledge social network.

Puasi Ippak using the mobile app on the land. Photo: Joel Heath/Arctic Eider Society

“SIKU was inspired by groups like Inuit hunting stories of the day, and our community-driven programs connecting work by Inuit hunters and researchers across different regions of Hudson’s Bay,” says Joel Heath, Executive Director, the Arctic Eider Society. “It provides a way to share Inuit knowledge and observations in near-real time, through simple social media tools like tagging wildlife and their habitats and including Inuktitut sea ice terminology. The results of community research or guardians programs and hunters’ observations of dangerous ice or other conditions can be found alongside weather, ice imagery and tools to help with safety, knowledge transfer and environmental stewardship.”

SIKU combines traditional knowledge with cutting-edge technology. The tool engages Inuit youth and hunters to document changes on the land for the benefit of local and scientific communities while contributing to regional stewardship programs and monitoring of protected areas.

Jimmy Iqaluq and Johnny Kudluarok looking at hunting stories and sea ice on the SIKU.org online platform. Photo: Joel Heath/Arctic Eider Society

“The SIKU platform is built by and for Inuit,” Joel continues.  “A primary goal is to provide new ways to facilitate Inuit self-determination in research, stewardship, and education. It also gets youth interested in being out on the land and seeing what is happening in their region. There has been a great response so far. We’re publicly launching the platform later this fall and are really excited about its potential to help connect communities and programs across the north for environmental stewardship.”

Screenshot of SIKU.org showing news feed, map and satelitte imagery services.

Canadians support scaling up conservation targets and increasing protected areas. Government is taking action, but further work is urgently needed to conserve, restore, and rebuild abundant marine fisheries, wildlife, and ecosystems.

By investing in marine protection today, funders accrue benefits across a range of environmental, social and economic issues. Best of all, they will help to safeguard our vast and vulnerable oceans and coasts igniting hope to all who depend on them.

Ultimately, that’s all of us.

If you are a CEGN member and interested in joining the Ocean Collaborative, please email Pegi Dover at pegi_dover@cegn.com.  

 The CEGN environmental grants database tool and reports have become important resources for our network. Together they promote data-driven strategic decision-making to ensure successful outcomes for the environment and high-impact investments. With the support of our members and other funders, CEGN is a leader in the collection, analysis, and application of data for Canadian environmental philanthropy. While the main database is public and accessible on CEGN’s website, CEGN members have the opportunity to gain more granular information through accessing the database via the Members’ section of the website.

[1]   CEGN’s Environmental Grants Database Tool, 2016. Coastal and marine ecosystems are defined as the open ocean and coastal wetland systems which include fisheries, aquaculture, coastal lands, deltas, estuaries, marine protected areas and marine pollution (e.g. marine dumping). As a point of contrast, Biodiversity and Species Preservation was the most funded issue at 19%,  which includes terrestrial projects).