Chiixuu Tll iinasdll: Indigenous Leadership and Collaborations Foster Ecological Restoration for People and Place in Gwaii Haanas

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Lynn C. Lee, Gwiisihlgaa Daniel McNeill, Pauline Ridings, Mike Featherstone, Daniel K. Okamoto, Nathan B. Spindel, Aaron W. E. Galloway, Gary W. Saunders, Emily M. Adamczyk, Luba Reshitnyk, Ondine Pontier, Miranda Post, Robyn Irvine, Gulxa taa’a gaagii ng.aang Nadine Wilson and SGiids Kung Vanessa Bellis

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Indigenous societies and governance systems worldwide are based on relationships, knowledge and practices reflecting a deep history of interdependence between people and place that sustains biological and cultural diversity. Using the Chiixuu Tll iinasdll kelp forest restoration project along 3-kilometers of coastline in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site, in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada, we demonstrate how Indigenous leadership and collaborations can restore balance in social-ecological relationships while advancing conservation and restoration goals. Here, relationships between indigenous Haida, sea otters, and ecosystems adapted and persisted for millennia until the maritime fur trade disrupted Haida culture and extirpated sea otters almost 200 years ago. Loss of sea otters, voracious shellfish predators, freed macroinvertebrates from top-down control. Kelp forests today are diminished in abundance, depth and area from intense grazing by hyperabundant urchins, impacting marine ecosystems, species at risk, and culturally important species by reducing habitat, primary productivity and coastal protection. We mimicked sea otter predation by removing and cracking >75% of urchins on site, providing traditional foods, guuding.ngaay (red urchin) and styuu (green urchin), to Haida communities. Subtidal monitoring showed remarkable increase in kelp depth and density 6-9 months post-restoration, yet great year-to-year variation, highlighting importance of continued maintenance and monitoring to understand ecosystem dynamics. We also demonstrated correlations between urchin removals and increased red urchin growth rates, gonad mass, and metabolism. Gwaii Haanas’ cooperative management partners offer a transformative path forward in conservation and restoration for and by local communities.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

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