Grace Islet (Photo by Phil Vernon)

Grace Islet (Photo by Phil Vernon)

A graceful resolution

NCC joins forces with the BC Government and First Nations to protect Grace Islet
Grace Islet (Photo by Phil Vernon)

Grace Islet (Photo by Phil Vernon)

Made up of a network of large islands and tiny islets, the Southern Gulf Islands are one of BC's most beautiful and ecologically unique areas. The Mediterranean climate found here gives rise to many plants, animals and ecological communities found nowhere else in Canada.

People have lived in this area for millennia. Today the population has swelled and residential development has left a footprint throughout. Recently a tiny islet just off offshore from the most densely settled of the Gulf Islands, Salt Spring Island, has been the subject of great community conflict.

Grace Islet has been privately owned since 1913. But for much longer the islet was used by local First Nations, including as a burial site. At least 18 cairns have been found on the islet, which was designated a provincial heritage site in 1974. Conflict arose when the landowner was granted permits and, in 2014, began to build a luxury home on Grace Islet, despite the presence of archaeological remains. The community protested. First Nations threatened legal action. The Province stepped in to find a solution.

And that is when the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) got involved. We were invited by the Province to contribute our expertise in complex land negotiations to assist in finding a resolution to the dispute over Grace Islet.  

“We are honoured to be part of a solution that will see the protection and conservation of the significant cultural heritage and ecological values on Grace Islet,” says Linda Hannah, BC regional vice-president for NCC. “We look forward to working with the Province and First Nations on restoring and stewarding this very special place.”

Grace Islet conservation values

While the story of Grace Islet has focused largely (and rightly) on the presence of burial cairns and the islet's spiritual and cultural important to First Nations, there is also an important ecological side to this story.

Grace Islet has strong conservation values that make it a good fit for our work in British Columbia. The West Coast is a key focal area for us in 2015, where natural spaces are facing heavy pressure from development. Our conservation mapping and strategic planning shows that the Southern Gulf Islands are a top conservation priority. Work here is both urgent and extremely valuable.

Despite its small size, Grace Islet contains important Garry oak habitat, as well as intertidal habitat for herring and other marine life. As part of the rare Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem zone, Grace Islet will become a small haven of conservation in an area where the majority of the original habitat has been converted through urban and agricultural development.

Small islands and islets are of particular interest to conservation. They can be great protectors of the area's natural biodiversity, as they are less likely to have invasive plants and animals disturbing the natural ecosystem, and can act as seed banks for the native plants of this area.

Grace Islet itself has 200-year-old juniper, Garry oak and Douglas-fir trees. Its intertidal area offers sea grass meadows that are particularly valuable spawning habitat and are in decline region-wide.

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