Marine protected areas

At the 2002 Earth Summit held in Johannesburg, all participating countries recognized the critical importance of establishing marine protected areas. Currently there are approximately 4600 MPAs in the world, which represents only 1% of the planet’s oceans. Canada borders three oceans: the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Arctic. In fact, Canada boasts 243,000 km of coastline, more than any country in the world. The country possesses nearly 80 MPAs. Three federal programs exist for marine protected areas.

Environment Canada Program

The Department of the Environment can grant certain habitats the status of “National Importance”. Migratory Bird Sanctuaries (MBS) are coastal or marine habitats protected by the Department of the Environment where birds reproduce, feed, migrate or winter. Quebec is host to nearly 30 MBS covering over 60,000 hectares along the shores of the St. Lawrence. There are also National Wildlife Areas (NWAs). These are conservation zones for the wetlands of the St. Lawrence. To date, eight NWAs afford protection to nearly 6,000 hectares of wetlands along the St. Lawrence.

Parks Canada Program

Parks Canada has divided the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans and the Great Lakes into 29 marine regions with distinct biological and physical characteristics where it is considering establishing National Marine Conservation Areas (NMCAs). The creation of these areas aims to “protect and commemorate the country’s natural and cultural heritage”. To date, three NMCAs have been established: the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park in Quebec, the Fathom Five National Marine Park in Ontario’s Georgian Bay, and, in June 2010, the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site in British Columbia. Other projects are presently under development: in Ontario’s Lake Superior, in British Columbia’s Southern Strait of Georgia, and in Lancaster Sound in the Arctic. On December 5, 2011, the Quebec Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks announced a federal-provincial agreement for the preparation of a study for the creation of a marine protected area in the Magdalen Islands.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada Program

The Oceans Act provides for the creation of “Marine Protected Areas” (MPAs) (when capitalized or written as an acronym, one of the three core programs of the marine protected areas network) by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. These areas have the objective of preserving and protecting:

  • Unique habitats;
  • Endangered or threatened species;
  • Commercial resources;
  • Areas rich in biodiversity or biological productivity;
  • Any other marine resource or habitat that requires specific protection.

The first MPA to be designated in Canada was the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents located southwest of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, a rich ecosystem which harbours unique species. In May 2004, Fisheries and Oceans Canada designated the second MPA in Canada: the Gully, an underwater canyon 200 km off the coast of Nova Scotia, near Sable Island. This exceptionally deep canyon is host to a large variety of marine species, including a population of northern bottlenose whale designated endangered in Canada. In 2010, the Tarium Niryutait MPA was designated in the Northwest Territories.

Canada has identified other sites of interest being considered for designation as MPA. Three of these sites are located in Quebec, including the St. Lawrence Estuary MPA project. This site is a prime location for observing whales. Although scheduled for 2006, the establishment of this MPA has been slow to materialize.

In September 2011, a National Framework for Canada’s Network of Marine Protected Areas was adopted. Developed in collaboration with federal, provincial and territorial authorities, this document lays out guidelines for designing a national network of marine protected areas.

National Framework for Canada’s Network of Marine Protected Areas