Several new marine refuges and marine protected areas in British Columbia have been established or proposed as part of Canada’s goal to conserve 10 percent of its coast by 2020. However, comprehensive oversight is still needed to ensure various marine protection areas function as a cohesive network.
Approximately one percent of Canada’s oceans are currently protected within marine protected areas (MPAs). However, work is underway to increase the protection we afford our oceans through national and international commitments to develop MPAs and other effective area-based conservation measures (OEABCMs) by 2020 that conserve 10 percent of Canada’s marine and coastal areas. Nationally, conservation targets will be reached by advancing work on areas proposed as future MPAs, designating large MPAs in offshore areas, establishing new MPAs in areas under pressure from human activities, advancing OEABCMs, and updating the Oceans Act to facilitate MPA designation without sacrificing science and consultation.
On the British Columbia coast, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has recently created a new MPA to safeguard
reefs of ancient and fragile glass sponges, and an MPA is being finalized to protect the foraging habitats of globally distinct seabird colonies. Research is also underway on a new, large offshore Area of Interest that would conserve unique hydrothermal vent and seamount ecosystems. Within the Northern Shelf Bioregion, the Government of Canada, Province of British Columbia, and 17 First Nations have formed a unique collaboration to develop a network of MPAs. Together, these initiatives are poised to greatly enhance the protection of B.C.’s marine species and habitats (Figure 1).
Why is it important?
MPAs are areas of the ocean where human activities are regulated or restricted to ensure the long-term conservation of marine biodiversity and associated economic and cultural values. MPAs are designed to protect the habitats, ecosystems, and processes upon which marine species rely. Science shows that the benefits of MPAs are enhanced when protected systematically as part of a cohesive network. When MPAs function as a unit they can better represent, replicate, and connect important marine features and populations. They may also be more efficient in areas where larger MPAs are difficult to implement. For example, MPA networks can facilitate the movement of seabirds by protecting disparate sites important for breeding, foraging, and over-wintering.
First Nations Connections
First Nations communities on the B.C. coast are inextricably linked to the marine environment. Many hereditary names and crests, origin sites, and spiritual places are associated with marine areas and are critical historical and cultural resources. Coastal First Nations are also closely connected to the surrounding ocean through a variety of traditional marine activities which continue today, including the management, harvesting, preparation, and consumption of seasonal resources. The rich marine environment historically supported large First Nation populations, as evidenced by the many villages, and fishing and hunting camps located throughout the region. Two examples of successfully co-managed marine protected areas in B.C. include the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area and Haida Heritage Site, co-managed between the Federal Government and the Haida Nation; and the Hakai Lúxvbálís Conservancy co-managed between the Heiltsuk Nation and the Province of British Columbia.
What is the current status?
MPAs have protected portions of the B.C. coast since the creation of Strathcona Park on Vancouver Island in 1911. Over the ensuing century, small MPAs were added on a site-by-site basis as areas of conservation importance were identified, and the total amount of marine area protected increased slowly (Figure 2).
In recent years, larger MPAs have been created and the spatial extents of marine protection have increased markedly. With the establishment of the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs MPA in 2017, just under four percent of the Pacific Ocean of Canada is now within an MPA. Because these sites have been developed and designated independently, they do not necessarily function as a network. The establishment of MPAs does not ensure the continued conservation of biodiversity on the B.C. coast. B.C.’s MPAs exist in a complicated space, with multiple jurisdictions involved in managing different marine areas, resources, and activities. As such, MPAs are created using a variety of tools, follow a diversity of objectives, restrict and/or continue to allow a range of human activities, and do not always live up to their potential. When considering the quality of the protection provided by MPAs, it is important to account for the MPA’s stated objectives, the management measures that are in place, and how well each MPA aligns with MPA network criteria.
November 2017 Update
by Karin Bodtker, Coastal Ocean Research Institute, an Ocean Wise initiative
On October 28, 2017, the Government of Canada announced a new set of “marine refuges” that bring Canada past a domestic target to protect five percent of marine and coastal areas by 2017. Two of these refuges are in the Pacific Region – a new Offshore Pacific Seamounts and Vents Closure, and existing Strait of Georgia and Howe Sound Glass Sponge Reef closures – and both are fishing closures rather than designated protected areas with management plans. This marks the first time fishing closures are counted toward marine protection targets by Canada’s federal government.
What can you do?
Individual and Organization Actions:
- Explore the B.C. coast to discover the incredible diversity of marine ecosystems.
- Participate in MPA network planning. If you live, work, or have an interest in the Northern Shelf Bioregion,visit http://mpanetwork.ca to learn how to be involved.
Government Actions and Policy:
- Finalize the management plans for existing MPAs and collaborate across government agencies to ensure appropriate management actions are taken.
- Begin the process of developing MPA networks within all marine bioregions in Canada’s Pacific Ocean.