By contributor Chantelle Spicer

Our little corner of the world, here on Vancouver Island, is really spectacular, sometimes more so than you would imagine. From old-growth forests to glacially fed lakes, panoramic mountain vistas viewed from the beach to one of the most diverse undersea ecosystems in the world, we really do have it all. Sometimes, just how lucky I am to live here leaves me in awe. It is not just the Islanders who recognize how special this is either—tourists from all over the world flock here to storm watch our rocky shorelines, view black bears during the salmon spawn, whale watch, and enjoy the pace of our Island home. It is extraordinary in a way that is felt deep down, on a level few things in our man-made world can touch. This level of diversity on all levels, from the geology to the ecology, has received the attention of not only residents and tourists, but also scientists from around the world and UNESCO.

Here on the Island, we have the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve (MABR)—one of 651 recognized and conserved ecological regions in the world. These regions are generally comprised of incredibly diverse marine, terrestrial, and coastal ecosystems which integrate urban interfaces. This integration gives the area a unique opportunity to reconnect people with the natural world “[using] the power of science and the wonder of nature to foster change… Biosphere reserves celebrate people and nature, facilitate participation, seek local solutions to global problems, and foster positive change through science, education, and cultural awareness,” according to the website.

Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve. courtesy of Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve Research Institute.

Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve. courtesy of Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve Research Institute.


This alliance between humans and the natural world provides a springboard upon which to base truly sustainable development, which would promote conservation of the land and cultures within it alongside economic potential. This idea is built into the MABR’s mission statement as well and is shown in their multitude of projects and partnerships.

Founded in 2000 by research scientist Dr. Glen Jamieson, the area was created to provide the public with a more comprehensive view of the complex ecosystem and diversity of Mt. Arrowsmith and its subsequent watersheds. This is the highest peak on Southern Vancouver Island at 1,819 metres tall, with the range of the biosphere covering 1,186 square kilometres. From the peaks of both Arrowsmith and Mt. Moriarty flow many tributary rivers, which make up five watersheds, including Nanoose Peninsula and the BallenasWinchelsea Archipelago. This height and area shows for a very impressive range of ecosystems from the alpine zones to coastal forest to the bottom of the Salish Sea. It also encompasses the homes of approximately 45 thousand residents and is a part of the traditional territories of seven First Nations communities. This myriad of life forms caught the attention of UNESCO (a sector of the United Nations) when it was designated a biosphere reserve in 2000, making it one of two reserves in BC. By having this designation, the MABR complies with UNESCO standards of sustainability, development, the involvement of local communities, conservation of cultural and biological diversity, and education.

This connection to public awareness and education is a major focus of the partnerships that make up MABR management, included in which is the City of Parksville and VIU. In 2014, the Mt. Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve Institute was founded through VIU, giving university researchers and the MABR an opportunity to involve the expertise of scientists, students, multiple stakeholders, and local communities in an exploration of more sustainable development. Though it was founded very recently, the Institute has hit the ground running, creating projects such as:

  • • The Mt. Arrowsmith Weather Station and Snow Pillow, which will be ready to use this winter;
  • • State of the Environment Reporting (SOER), which will work to identify sustainability targets and impacts for the region in many areas including water quality and waste production;
  • • Working with First Nations and local communities to create new business models for conservation management; and
  • • The Blue-Carbon Project, which explores potential carbonstoring capabilities of our native eelgrass within our estuaries.

MABR has also hosted a speaker series at VIU, along with supporting the Kwalikum Food Forest, which is a community asset in regards to creating awareness and education that directly contributes to the sustainability of the region.

VIU’s fall 2015 course list debuts MABR101, designed to introduce students to the biosphere and all its features. Content of the course includes the history of the MABR, current environmental issues, research, and a comprehensive look at the physical and cultural geography of the area, which work to make this region so important and unique. MABR101 will be held for the first time on September 26 at Milner Gardens in Qualicum Beach.

A biosphere reserve in our own backyard provides opportunities to learn about and explore our natural world. Moving forward, it is also a way to contribute toward a society and world. For more information, visit, which features an adventure blog, maps, and tips for enjoying your own adventure in the region.