Thoughts on Doing Tourism Differently: Celes Devar

Canada's Ocean Playground

The Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia has the opportunity to address tourism, economic development and land conservation in a different way than any other area of Nova Scotia at this time.

As a trained biologist, tourism operator and community economic development facilitator, I’d like to invite a deeper think about the news article above and its implications. My hope is that we embrace a more openly democratic discussion and assessment of tourism and economic development opportunities.

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Letter from Tourism Operator Celes Devar

December 31, 2019

Honourable Premier, Ministers and Members of the Nova Scotia legislature,

Re: Recent CBC Article, N.S. won’t protect land with ‘globally rare’ ecosystem that company eyes for golf resort

First of all, Happy New Year to all of you. Wishing you a thriving and fulfilling 2020.

I am a tourism operator in the Gaspereau Valley. I also have had the opportunity (perhaps privilege) of spending considerable time on the Eastern Shore this summer, and have visited multiple times. It is a stunning, wild shoreline. The people living along the Eastern Shore are fiercely in love with their landscape. There are a number of new entrepreneurs emerging doing cool things. The Nova Scotia Nature Trust has a great campaign underway called the 100 Wild Islands Campaign.

Opportunity:

The Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia has the opportunity to address tourism, economic development and land conservation in a different way than any other area of Nova Scotia at this time.

As a trained biologist, tourism operator and community economic development facilitator, I’d like to invite a deeper think about the news article above and its implications. My hope is that we embrace a more openly democratic discussion and assessment of tourism and economic development opportunities that are aligned with what the landscape and people on the Eastern Shore may wish for, new considerations for the long term visitor opportunities there, and how we may change the ways we make decisions in matters like this.

Enquiry and Confirmation of Accuracy of Information

My understanding from the above article and other recent ones is that:

  • There was a designated area of 285 hectares of coastal Crown Land set aside to become Owls Head Provincial Park. It has piping plovers and a variety of endangered flora that comprise a globally rare ecosystem.
  • That this designation changed last March based on significant lobbying. The designation to de-list Owls Head was made by Cabinet “minute letter” and is therefore confidential.
  • That Owl’s Head provincial park designated area is included within the Nature Trust’s 100 Wild Islands Campaign, and they were not informed nor involved of this change in designation.
  • That Nova Scotians were involved in consultations that led to the positive outcome of setting aside the Owl’s Head area for ecological protection.
  • That there is land for sale and a proposed real estate transaction and development proposal involving potentially golf courses, a luxury resort, housing developments – all for sale to private interests, and are being actively advertised in US newspapers.

If the above is accurate, I’d like to ask for your clarification and responses to the following questions, and make some alternative suggestions for consideration. I don’t want to critically review this issue, without also offering some suggestions and resources to think about this differently.

Questions:

1. Is the above information I have identified correct? If so, why was a Cabinet minute letter used to remove the land from protection status?

2. In 2020 in Nova Scotia, how can we have a new Sustainable Prosperity Act, a Coastal Protection Act, and a commitment to climate change mitigation and simultaneously be removing coastal lands assessed and designated as having ecological services and features that were deemed worthy of protecting until a development proposal came along, causing a shift in thinking and a justification to remove it from further protection status?

3. Trading off places of higher ecological value against other locations, to make way for a monoculture, polluting golf course development is unsound, regardless of whether the development follows “environmental construction guidelines.” Why? Because it is an ecosystem that currently holds water. It sequesters carbon. It holds high biological diversity. It offers coastal headland protection. It currently has many ecosystem services that it provides to the Nova Scotia landscape and the people of Nova Scotia, that will be removed if it is destroyed for a golf course. Why was it deemed appropriate to trade off a private business development against holding protected land in trust for future generations and the health of the province and the planet?

Suggestions:

1. Instead of trading off development vs environmental protection, could I suggest that we have some different opportunities available? To initiate a new kind of tourism infrastructure and tourism strategy on the Eastern Shore that offers something completely different from Inverness, Cape Breton, the South Shore, or other high-density tourism hotspots in Nova Scotia.

  • Invest in a series of renewable energy-based projects, eco-lodges and inns that are smaller scale and fully based on new renewable energy, low impact travel opportunities (kayaking, motorbike touring, cultural tourism experiences, seaside foraging and wild culinary experiences, support Sherbrooke Village and other museums even more as experiential tourism hotspots) that reflect the wild Eastern Shore’s wildness, people, stories, and landscape values. This is called experiential and regenerative tourism, where instead of trading off development (or creating a single enterprise resort development) against ecological values, we develop a regional tourism strategy and approach that addresses the complexity of this kind of long term sustainable business thinking. We develop tourism infrastructure in scale with the local landscape and its people.
  • Tourism Nova Scotia is already focusing on experience development for visitors who value learning opportunities (cultural, ecological, recreational) globally and locally. Let’s build a long term economic development strategy based on lower volumes of visitors doing things that locals can instruct them about, and build a storytelling approach into tourism that builds local wisdom and knowledge into the tourism solutions.
  • Hiring locals to work at someone else’s golf course or serve on the front desk of a luxury hotel would seem to be both demeaning and unhelpful to people whose entire lives have been built around living on the Eastern Shore, or fishing, or small scale forestry.
  • We have an opportunity to do tourism differently for the long term. Building a luxury resort with golf courses appears to serve a private sector developer and project. It seems that the window for these kinds of singular luxury resort investments with limited benefits, has now passed.

2. Engage all Nova Scotians in an open and participative discussion about protecting more of Nova Scotia’s ecological areas, so that we place carbon sequestration and biological diversity protection of existing lands as the highest priority in all development, not as something to be traded off.

3. Stop any potential sale of private lands to develop this proposed new resort. If it is not possible to stop the sale, let’s consider how to buy back the land and protect it for all Nova Scotians.

4. This month, a significant global document was released by the World Travel Foundation. It is called Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Cost of Tourism. I invite and encourage you and your colleagues, local communities, and Tourism Nova Scotia to start assessing several metrics that are currently not being used in tourism in Nova Scotia as part of every tourism infrastructure development, redevelopment, investment, and strategy. https://www.thetravelfoundation.org.uk/invisible-burden/

5. Set aside the original lands designated for protection as Owl’s Head Provincial Park as a registered carbon offset project. Work with the local communities to start developing renewable energy or biodiversity protection projects that employ people, protect lands, and offer long term solutions to business. We don’t have any registered carbon offset projects at the present time in Nova Scotia. It seems that it’s time we created some, so that we can use carbon offset projects as part of our strategy for mitigating the carbon emissions associated with travellers arriving by air to Nova Scotia.

I love this province. I appreciate the complexities of governing. I also applaud your recent decision regarding not extending the Boat Harbour Act deadline as provided in the legislation. My observations, questions and suggestions above are about recognizing that we live in times when “It’s not business as usual.” As a tourism business owner, I am not opposed to business development. I encourage entrepreneurship of all kinds. What I am aware of at this time, is that we have to do business differently moving forward. What are some more complete metrics, how do we address complex issues in how we integrate business with environmental protection?

I want to clarify that I don’t see how we can “balance economics vs environmental protection.” Rather, we can develop better ways of doing business that respect nature’s ecological patterns, and create/adjust businesses that give back (regenerative, restorative) rather than takes or destroys. It seems that we can no longer afford to destroy places that already contain biodiversity and sequester carbon, to then destroy and alter them with monoculture grasslands fed by herbicides, and pave parking lots for private luxury resorts. Not any more.

How do we make decisions involving simple trade-offs of a development proposal against ecological values? The complexity of our current realities (climate change, rising sea levels, economic development, sustainable and healthy communities, low impact tourism development ) require different analyses and will result in new solutions. We have many more tools and ways to now integrate thinking in business to result in solutions that are in scale with our communities’ aspirations, our local ecology, and imaginative entrepreneurship.

We need your support as government to help us get to new business realities, where we don’t avoid making environmental considerations primary in our economic thinking. In that regard, I offer two short videos for you to consider:

A Healthy Economy Designed to Thrive: https://www.ted.com/…/kate_raworth_a_healthy_economy_should…

Travel to Tomorrow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbXZGOMj9zY

Thank you for considering these thoughts. If you feel that there would be value in having further conversations, a meeting or a gathering of people to discuss these ideas, I would be happy to participate.

Happy New Year!

Celes Davar, Earth Rhythms Inc.