THE BLOG

Canada's Oceans Need More Protected Areas

06/08/2015 12:38 EDT | Updated 06/08/2016 05:59 EDT
Michael Eudenbach via Getty Images

Although we rarely have the time or opportunity to notice from shore, the ocean is a busy place. On a daily basis, the sheer volume of activities that happen on or under the water are countless, ranging from long-distance migrations of whales, to corals slowly propagating -- and even distinct sonic boom of seismic testing for oil and gas.

Equally unnoticed are the essential services oceans provide us. Our lives -- the air we breathe, a stable climate -- depend on the ocean. And our jobs and our communities depend on the health of this incredibly rich resource as well.

It's also easy to forget that Canada, as a nation, was built on our oceans. More specifically, it was built on the amazing food that comes from them. Which is why we recently helped launch a new Fisheries Improvement Project (FIP) led by the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union: The FIP aims to bring a renowned Newfoundland and Labrador cod fishery that's been under a fishing moratorium since 1992 back to a healthy level -- and eventual commercial viability.

And as we mark World Oceans Day 2015 on June 8, it has already been a big year for Canada's oceans. In April, TransCanada confirmed that it would not be building its Energy East terminal at Cacouna, Quebec, the home of important beluga whale habitat. We've also seen the start of an important marine planning and protection effort on Canada's west coast with the endorsement of world-leading MaPP plans that will help secure a healthy future for over 102,000km² of the Great Bear region.

That's why WWF-Canada and a group of five other well-recognized conservation organizations have made an important set of recommendations to federal members of parliament on ocean health -- specifically, why it's absolutely essential that we expand marine protection for the benefit of thriving oceans and the many communities that depend on them.

Along with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Center, Greenpeace, and Living Oceans, we've outlined that Canada need to do a lot more to secure the future health of its oceans, and one of the most urgent actions it can take is it establish more high-quality and well-managed marine protected areas -- and do it much, much faster.

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been widely recognized as an important part of keeping our oceans healthy. Although there are many different definitions of what an MPA is, one of the best explanations is an ocean area where human activities are restricted or managed in some way.

Designation of such areas are known to contribute to the improved health, integrity and productivity of marine ecosystems and can help address biodiversity losses and conserve ecologically significant areas.

A new WWF report points out that increased protection of critical habitats, such as oceans, could result in net benefits of between $490 billion and $920 billion between 2015 and 2050. But what about the economic value of MPAs in Canada? In addition to the ecological benefits, MPAs that protect key habitats and species can allow for certain activities such as whale watching and shark diving which has an estimated value in the billions.

From these two examples alone, it's clear that protecting our oceans is a worthwhile investment. Although MPAs continue to grow in popularity, a lack in high-quality coverage persists. WWF has already highlighted concerns about the low standards proposed for the Laurentian Channel MPA, off the coast of Newfoundland, which would still be 100 per cent "open to oil and gas exploration and exploitation" even if it gains federal protection.

Yet even with this lackluster performance, Atlantic Canada's first MPA, the Gully, still stands out as gem in our ocean crown. Conservation efforts first started in the area on the late 1980s, but it wasn't until 2004 that this rich undersea canyon officially became a protected area. Spurring this forward was the Gully's resident population endangered northern bottlenose whales -- "home bodies," for lack of a better word, that live exclusively in the canyon and a few others nearby.

Still, even a success stories like the Gully have their limits. It has been useful in protecting a unique geological area and creating a refuge for an endangered population of northern bottlenose whales, but just because we draw a box around an area does not mean that it is protected from everything. Threats such as noise pollution from seismic exploration for oil and gas and ocean acidification know no boundaries.

MPAs... do we need them? Yes. Should we have more of them? Yes. It's a long road ahead, but it's one worth striving for.

What can you do? You can write to your MP and tell them that you too think that the ocean deserves protection. You can also donate to WWF to support the important work we are doing.

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