It began many years ago as a modest idea. The Bras d’Or Preservation Foundation recognized the deep and remarkable canyon in the Bras d’Or Lake’s St. Andrew’s Channel as a place worthy of Biosphere Reserve (BR) designation, under the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Program. A steering committee was assembled in 2003 to explore how the canyon might qualify for this distinction. At first, members of the committee feared that a Reserve would mean isolation of that part of the Lake. They soon found that UNESCO’s requirements include human activity as part of the reality of conserving a selected area. As it turned out the canyon did not meet some essential BR requirements. By that time the steering committee knew enough about BR provisions to comfortably decide on the much bigger prospect of having all of the Lake and its watershed nominated for BR designation. That decision was reached in November 2003. It was the beginning of a long, slow process of gaining support for the idea. The steering committee itself had to be persuaded. Its twelve members were recruited from a range of organizations[1] having particular concern about the Lake, along with several members-at-large representing residents’ interests. Meetings were infrequent due primarily to the voluntary nature of the effort as well as to the need to allow time for information to be processed by such key groups as the municipal and first nations’ governments whose jurisdictions relate to theBras d’Or Lake.

Spreading the Word

Presentations were made describing the implications of achieving Biosphere Reserve status. In some cases they were made more than once, to each of the four municipal councils (the counties of Inverness, Richmond, Victoria and the Cape Breton Regional municipality); to the Pitu’Paq Partnership (an alliance of the Island’s mayors, wardens and chiefs); to representatives of Cape Breton’s regional Development Agencies; to the Collaborative Environmental Planning Initiative (involving Unama’ki  Institute of Natural Resources, five Unama’ki chiefs, mayors and wardens of Cape Breton, and a range of federal and provincial government departments collaborating to build and implement a management plan for the Bras d’Or Lake), and to several community groups. In each case the idea was favourably received. Some work has been done and more plans are in the works to enable citizens who live within the watershed, and representatives of industries working there, to become familiar with the implications of a Biosphere Reserve. This process is slowed by the simple matter of cost. To date the steering committee has spent only $2,000, an amount contributed by the Strait-Highlands RDA and the Cape Breton County Economic Development Authority. The entire amount was used to print and distribute a brochure. This web site has been set up mostly by generous volunteers! Currently, departments of the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia whose mandates relate to the Lake and/or its watershed are being informed of the progress being made to gain the BR designation. Some have already assisted by clarifying the basis of their interest in the initiative. In the final analysis, a submission to UNESCO will require evidence that the project is both well-understood and supported by all who share a stake in the health of the Bras d’Or.

The UNESCO Nomination Process

Preparation of the lengthy and technical UNESCO nomination document is a daunting exercise. A small committee is at work on its preparation. Its members have strong scientific orientation and are highly committed to the effort as volunteers. Data requirements go beyond providing maps and important descriptions of flora and fauna. They extend to information about social and economic characteristics of the area and to the long-term management and financial aspects of the BR once the designation has been granted. Perhaps most important of all is the need to articulate reliably how the proposed designation will advance the work of those already dedicated to the protection and development of the entire Bras d’Or Lake area. Very generous guidance and encouragement for this work has been contributed by a veteran of the job of preparing UNESCO BR submissions, George Francis, Professor Emeritus, University of Waterloo. He is of the opinion that if we continue to advance at the current rate we can expect to achieve the goal toward the end of this year.

The Association

The Steering Committee was reluctant to formalize itself into an Association. It preferred to be an informal vehicle to enable various interests already supporting the Lake and its watershed, to advance their efforts by supporting the Biosphere Reserve idea. Because nomination application is to be filed by a single legal entity, a registered Association was formed in 2006 with an interim Board of Directors. Fortunately, the goal of being a vehicle for a wide range of interests has not been lost. Next month the Association’s first Annual Meeting will be held. It will elect a Board of Directors reflecting those interests to see the application process through to its successful completion.

Teresa MacNeil – Chair, Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve Association (April 2010) [1] Bras d’Or Stewardship Society, Bras d’Or Preservation Foundation, Eskasoni Fish and Wildlife Commission, Aros Na Mara Marine Science Centre (Iona); Pitu’Paq Partnership, Cape Breton University’s Bras d’Or Institute