Last weekend I had the pleasure to attend a celebration at the Highland Village in Iona where the beautiful Bras d’Or Lake was designated an official UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Biosphere Reserve.
The Bras d’Or Lake is a central part of our island… literally. The lake spans the center of Cape Breton, harbouring unique geology and being a rich resource to islanders for centuries.
Personally, I’ve grown up in and on the lake! My family has a cottage on the Bras d’Or (North-side East Bay) so every summer we moved there. I took swimming lessons in the lake, and I have kayaked , sailed, boated, and swam most of the gorgeous salt water. Consequently, no matter where I travel, I use the Bras d’Or as my measuring stick to all other competition – which is quite unfair I might add! Nonetheless, the Bras d’Or has a piece of my heart.
Aside from these obvious reasons to attend such an event honouring my favourite part of Cape Breton… I also attended to pay tribute to the people who have worked tirelessly to get the designation for the lake. First though, let me explain what a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve means.
A designation by UNESCO does not introduce new bureaucracy or regulations, but leaves the responsibility of protection of the lake to the surrounding communities. The communities surrounding the Reserve have to have shown termendous commitment to sustainability, as well as to ensured the promotion of a healthy environment, economy, society and culture. As the Canadian Commission for UNESCO explains, Biosphere Reserves are “living laboratories of sustainable development, where local communities choose to take the challenge to protect biodiversity while fostering economic and social development”.
The Bras d’Or Lake as a shoe-in, but for years volunteers worked hard to achieve the UNESCO status. Some of the volunteer groups included: Collaborative Environmental Planning Initiative (CEPI), Bras d’Or Preservation Nature Trust, Bras d’Or Stewardship Society, Bras d’Or Institute (at Cape Breton University), Pitu ‘Paq Partnership, and Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources.
In July, 2011 volunteers succeeded in their mission to make the Bras d’Or protected in the years to come, through becoming an official Biosphere Reserve. The celebration, therefore, was to celebrate the volunteers from communities around the lake, as well the legacy that this designation has created for future generations.
The celebration event was fabulous, with a diverse group of entertainers and many thoughtful speeches on preserving nature and culture.
The Highland Village in Iona was also open to the public for free, where you could weave in and out of early settler’s homes, while taking in panoramic views on the Bras d’Or.
As a bonus, the sun was also shinning!
I made sure to snap a few gorgeous pictures for you amidst snacking on food, walking around the village, and volunteering to work the guest sign in. (It’s estimated almost 1,000 people attended!)
If you missed out on the celebration event, you can pay homage to the lake by taking a nice walk or hike around it during October. Perhaps you can do your own part by picking up any litter around it, or just by sharing it’s beauty with the people you love. (And when the warmer weather rolls around… next year… make sure to go for a swim!)
The weekend celebration reminded me of the values of nature and our responsibility to protect it.
How will you do your part?
For more information on the Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve, click here.