The Bras d’Or Lakes are a majestic world-class inland waterway. The 450 square mile lake system is considered by many to be a unique eco-system replete with variety and range of marine life and vegetation. As well, the lakes are a recreational treasure enjoyed by countless thousands of visitors and Cape Bretoners alike.
The coves and harbours that embellish the natural beauty and functionality of the lake system are relatively well known. However, less well understood and equally, if not more, important is the richness of the marine and vegetation life.
The Bras d’Or eco-system is intriguing to say the least. To growing numbers it has enormous upside educational, research and economic and community development potential. For the past number of years, a group of dedicated community activists in the area of the Washabuck Peninsula have been endeavouring to develop concepts to capitalize on the promise of the eco-system. Operating as Central Cape Breton Community Ventures Inc. (CCBCVI), the collective has pushed forward the idea of a marine science facility at the Barra Strait.
The proposed marine science center has three strong pillars of operation: Research, Education and Tourism. CCBCVI has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Cape Breton University to advance research and education components. The University is active in the Bras d’Or Lakes through the Bras d’Or Institute. In addition to completing important research, CCBCVI believes there is strong potential in the edutainment and science based tourism sectors. Similar facilities such as the Newfoundland’s Bonne Bay Marine Center successfully combined science, research and tourism in a facility operated by Memorial University within the context of an integrated community economic development. The Bonne Bay marine research station is perceived to have a number of operational and physical design features germane to the `AROS NA MARA facility being proposed for the Barra Strait at Iona.
Facilities with specialized marine focus toward research, education and tourism are scattered throughout North America. While differing in some aspects, it is believed that each share common characteristics in several areas, some of which are important to the future of the Iona project. Among the myriad challenges associated with building and operate such facilities are how best to engage pivotal partners within the scientific and educational communities, elicit financial support from the private sector, shape programs and research initiatives that are both relevant and appropriate to local eco-systems; and establish ownership of the project and a governance model appropriate to the operation of the facility. These are just some of the issues and challenges to be considered as the Iona project moves along to fruition.
CCBCVI is the lead organizer for the Cape Breton version of World Oceans Day festival. This event is structured increase public awareness to the opportunities associated with a Marine Science Center in the heart the UN designated Bras d’Or Lakes Biosphere Reserve.