Anticosti mayor wants island designated UNESCO heritage site

The mayor of Anticosti says he is applying to have his island listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and that it could provide him another tool to fight oil and gas exploration in the area, which he calls "the Galapagos of the north."

The island's mayor will submit an application for 'Galapagos of the north'

Anticosti has become the site of a heated debate over oil and gas exploration. (R. Rancourt/Creative Commons)

The mayor of Anticosti wants the island to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which he believes could help prevent oil and gas exploration from going ahead.  

John Pineault describes the island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence as "the Galapagos of the north," but it is also possibly the site of rich hydrocarbon deposits. 

Anticosti Hydrocarbons — a joint venture between the Quebec government and several oil companies — is seeking to begin exploratory drilling on the island in the near future. 

"Obviously, if this can help put an end to that, fine and dandy," Pineault said, referring to his application for World Heritage status. 

But he added the application wasn't motivated solely by the prospective drilling projects. 

"Even if there wouldn't have been any oil and gas exploration on the island ... we still would have taken the occasion to present ourselves as a candidate to UNESCO," Pineault told Quebec AM.

Anticosti Island is about one and a half times the size of PEI, but is home to fewer than 250 people. ((Google Maps))

Island's geology is unique, mayor says

The federal government announced earlier this month that it is accepting, for the first time in 10 years, applications for World Heritage Sites. 

Pineault points to the island's geology as a prime reason why Anticosti should be considered.

"You have an island that comes out of the water 450 million years ago," he said.  

"That happens to be a period where there was a mass extinction on Earth, and it's a period that the geologists don't understand why."

The mayor said the application has the full support of the municipal council.

Heritage status could boost tourism, too

Pineault believes the designation, which sits in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, could also help promote the island's tourism industry. Anticosti already has a provincial park where visitors can fish, hike and camp.

"We want to assure that industry on the island. So when you look at other sites that are protected by UNESCO, well, it assures that you can do that development," said Pineault.

Based on the applications it receives, Ottawa will draw up a list of candidates. It is up to UNESCO —  the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture — to decide if any of the candidates receive World Heritage status.

There are now two World Heritage Sites in Quebec: the Historic District of Old Québec and Miguasha National Park.