01/19/2016 10:52 EST | Updated 01/19/2017 05:12 EST

2015 Marked A Turning Point For Canadian Nature Conservation

After years of steady, but slow, steps in nature conservation, our collective stride seems to have lengthened in 2015. We still need to act on commitments to create more terrestrial and marine protected areas. We still have Canadian species that are at risk of disappearing. We still have parks and protected areas that need to be buffered and better connected.

Design Pics / Richard Wear via Getty Images
Bison At Waterton National Park With Mountains In The Background

No one was expecting 2015 to be a special year for nature conservation. As we started the year, it seemed Canadians were mostly focused on the economy, security and health care. Yet when we reflect on the year that was, it's clear the unexpected happened.

Could 2015 have marked an unexpected global turning point for nature conservation?

Here are 10 Canadian stories of nature conservation from 2015 that should give us all evidence of hope.

10. Signs of recovery for species at risk

In 2015, signs emerged suggesting Atlantic cod are starting to recover on Canada's East Coast. Humpback whale numbers are growing in the waters off British Columbia. An initiative was launched to return plains bison to the valley lands of Banff National Park. The small white lady's-slipper, a delicate orchid that lives in southern Manitoba and southern Ontario, was down-listed in 2015 thanks in part to habitat conservation and management by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) in the tall grass prairie region.

9. A new national park in Canada's High Arctic

Canada's 45th national park, Qausuittuq National Park, is located on northwest Bathurst Island in Nunavut. At over 11,000 square kilometres of Arctic lands and waters, Qausuittuq National Park is larger than the country of Jamaica.

The new park protects key wildlife habitat for many Arctic species, including muskox, caribou, polar bear, narwhal and nesting colonies of waterfowl and seabirds.

8. Nova Scotia leads the way in new protected areas

Late in 2015 the Nova Scotia government announced the establishment of 100 new protected areas.

Several of these new protected areas build on places protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, including Dochertys Brook, Economy Point, Port L'Hebert and Quinns Meadow.

7. Linking nature and people

Although the connection between nature conservation and human well-being has long been recognized, the United Nations reaffirmed the link when it released 17 Goals to Transform Our World. The goals set an agenda for sustainable development in the next 15 years, including halting the loss of biodiversity and increasing the protection of our oceans.

In addition, Canada's Ecofiscal Commission and The Natural Step continue to integrate the environment and economy.

Near the end of the year, TD Bank and the Nature Conservancy of Canada released a report on the natural capital values of protected forests, showing that in addition to protecting nature, they also provide value to Canadians by cleaning water and capturing carbon.

6. Nunavut establishes a Conservation Data Centre

Canada's coverage of Conservation Data Centres (CDCs) was completed in 2015, with Nunavut joining the CDC network. CDCs provide critical information that helps organizations such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada target conservation activities on the species and habitats that are at greatest risk.

NCC has actively supported the establishment of CDCs across Canada since 1988. The addition of the Nunavut CDC is critical for Canadian conservation. Nunavut covers over one-fifth of Canada and includes some of the most pristine ecosystems left in the world.

5. A plan to protect Canada's oceans and coasts

Canada has the longest coastline in the world, yet as a marine nation, we are behind most of the world in conserving our oceans, with only one percent in protected areas.

The last year witnessed many milestones in ocean conservation in other parts of the world. Chili created the largest marine protected area in the Americas, and New Zealand announced the establishment of the 620,000-square-kilometre Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.

In September 2015, the federal government announced that Canada will meet international commitments to 10 per cent of our oceans by 2020.

4. Manitoba Creates New Protected Areas

Manitoba has continued to implement its Protected Areas Initiative, with the announcement of new protected areas in 2015. With these additions, 11 per cent of Manitoba is now protected.

The new 14,500-hectare Sturgeon Bay Provincial Park and 8,400-hectare Kinwow Bay Provincial Park, both on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, protect important fish habitats, wetlands and forests. Several of these new protected areas are within important natural areas where the Nature Conservancy of Canada is working, such as the Whitemouth River Watershed.

3. Protecting Newfoundland and Labrador

In July 2015 it was announced that Canada would establish another massive protected area in Labrador, the Akamai-uapishku -- KakKasuak -- Mealy Mountains National Park Reserve. This 10,700-square-kilometre national park reserve includes mountain tundra, coasts, boreal forests, islands and wild rivers

The biodiversity and protected areas of Newfoundland and Labrador are featured in the online nature atlas developed by the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

2. New initiatives to protect the Great Lakes and Lake Winnipeg

Canada is defined by freshwater. We have more lakes than all other countries combined, and 13 of the world's 30 largest lakes. Unfortunately many of our large lakes are facing a barrage of threats, including non-point source pollution, habitat loss and invasive species.

In November 2015, Ontario passed the Great Lakes Protection Act, which will support efforts to reduce harmful algal bloom caused by pollution, prevent the loss of wetlands and initiate conservation actions in geographically focused areas. The Province of Manitoba has responded to the threat of invasive zebra mussels in Lake Winnipeg by increasing efforts to limit their spread.

1. A global framework to manage climate change

The impacts of climate change that are already being observed in Canada include rapid warming of the Arctic and extreme weather events in southern regions of the country. The 2015 Conference of the Parties provides an important leap forward in managing our carbon pollution. The agreement affirms the important role that nature has in reducing greenhouse gases and helping communities adapt to climate change impacts. The Paris Agreement moves us closer than we've ever been in collectively managing the health of our planet.

In editorials that appeared across the country, the Nature Conservancy of Canada's President and CEO, John Lounds, highlighted the importance of conservation in our efforts to manage climate change.

More work to be done

After years of steady, but slow, steps in nature conservation, our collective stride seems to have lengthened in 2015. We still need to act on commitments to create more terrestrial and marine protected areas. We still have Canadian species that are at risk of disappearing. We still have parks and protected areas that need to be buffered and better connected.

There is still much work to be done if we want to create a Canada with healthy lands and waters that we can pass on to our children and grandchildren. The progress of 2015 should give us hope that this is achievable.

This article originally appeared in Land Lines, the blog of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook


Photo gallery Top 10 Endangered Species That Need Our Help See Gallery