A deep water large blue coloured fish with teeth hiding on the sea floor.

Marine Protection & Planning

When designed properly, Marine protected areas (MPAs) are one of the best tools available to protect key marine species and habitats, and help address the global biodiversity crisis and the climate crises. As part of marine planning processes, marine protected areas can provide a strong conservation foundation for a sustainable ocean economy.  
 
Canada has committed to meeting marine protection targets in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Specifically, after exceeding its initial commitment to protect 10 per cent of coastal and marine waters by 2020 (reaching 13.81 per cent by 2020), Canada extended this commitment to 25 per cent protection by 2025 while, at the same time, working toward 30 per cent by 2030. However, this work is challenging and complex because we must be sure that coastal communities and livelihoods are preserved while implementing ocean conservation.  
 
Despite the progress made in recent years, roadblocks remain along the path to 2030. For example, while Canada announced minimum protection standards for federal MPAs in 2019, which will keep four harmful industrial activities out of new federal MPAs (oil and gas, bottom trawl fishing, mining and dumping), these standards have yet to be fully defined or implemented. Simultaneously, some protected areas that are already established do not have the level of biodiversity protection required. To help Canada meet its international commitments and do its part in halting and reversing ocean biodiversity loss, we advocate strongly for progress on protected area establishment and for improvements in the quality of protection offered. This involves working with a diverse array of partners from the international to local level.

 

Gros Morne Community Marine Planning

Gros Morne Community Marine Planning 

The area in and around Gros Morne National Park, and its neighbouring coastal communities, is one of the most amazing spots in Atlantic Canada to explore pristine rivers, glacially carved fjords, and bays and harbours teeming with marine life. Since 2020, we have been working with communities in the Gros Morne region to build a community-based marine plan and evaluate the potential for protecting these coastal ecosystems. Bringing these waters under some level of protected status would create one of the only “land and sea” connected protection sites in Canada. Rebecca Brushett, our lead for this project, lives and operates a small business in Norris Point, which is one of the coastal communities in the Gros Morne region. She completed her master's thesis on community-based marine planning in this area in 2018 and is now building on that foundational work through this project at the EAC.

Our Gros Morne project involves working with many communities and stakeholders to gather information on marine values and uses throughout the region, including areas for protection. We are working actively with municipal governments, the Qalipu First Nation, the fishing industry, tourism and other businesses, the Bonne Bay Marine Station, environmental organizations and many others to gather input and develop this plan. Our work includes community engagement sessions where participants complete surveys and mapping exercises to help identify important marine areas and uses that are key to the local economy. We are working with a Geographic Information System (GIS) specialist to build interactive maps based on this input, which will eventually become a living marine spatial plan that can be used to inform government decision-making.

We partner with the Atlantic Healthy Oceans Initiative (AHOI), also led by Rebecca Brushett, on this project. AHOI has obtained a research-grade underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that is capable of diving to over 300 m deep while collecting high-definition photos and video footage. We are working with AHOI on ROV dives during the summer of 2022 to collect exciting new information on the marine species and habitats in Gros Morne waters. This information will feed into the community-based marine planning and protection project and help us identify areas in need of enhanced management or protection.

ROV dives started in June 2022 so stay tuned for exciting updates throughout the summer and fall!

A ROV system is seen, with a snow-covered body of water, trees and cliffs in the background.

The ROV owned by AHOI in Norris Point waiting patiently for the summer field season to arrive

Eastern Canyons Marine Refuge

Eastern Canyons Marine Refuge 

We’re excited that Fisheries and Oceans Canada has now formally established the Eastern Canyons Marine Refuge. This fisheries closure, established in June 2022 and located roughly 230 km offshore of Nova Scotia, east of the Sable Island Gully, will protect fragile deep-sea corals and associated ocean life (fish, sea stars, anemones, and crustaceans) from bottom fishing for generations to come. We have advocated for the establishment of this site for many years and were part of the technical advisory group that worked on site design, along with fisheries managers and industry and conservation organizations

A pink-coloured cold-water coral is seen on the ocean floor in the foreground, with many others in the background.Cold-water corals like this one create sea-bottom habitat that is vital for many fish and invertebrate species; these corals are also extremely sensitive to disturbance so require protection from damaging fishing practices

At nearly 44,000 km2, Eastern Canyons Marine Refuge becomes one of the largest protected marine areas in Atlantic Canada. It includes parts of the Scotian shelf and slope, two deep-sea canyons with an incredible diversity of marine life, and a large area of deep-sea plains further offshore.

The refuge includes an increased area of protection around the only known mounds of reef-building spider corals (Lophelia pertusa) in Atlantic Canada, which had been severely damaged by bottom fishing impacts. Research by Fisheries and Oceans Canada at this location has shown that protection can help these reefs gradually recover from damage, although this process may take decades. 

Eastern Canyons Marine Refuge is also home to dense patches of vibrant soft corals and many species that associate with them. By eliminating the impacts of bottom fishing in this area, the Eastern Canyons Marine Refuge will help preserve biodiversity and make Atlantic Canadian deep-sea ecosystems as resilient as possible. 

We are happy to have worked with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and other partners through a collaborative process to establish this site and help improve the health of our oceans.

Fundian Channel-Browns Bank Area of Interest

Fundian Channel-Browns Bank Area of Interest 

The Fundian Channel-Browns Bank Area of Interest (AOI) is a proposed MPA located approximately 135 km offshore of southwest Nova Scotia. The Fundian Channel is a wide submarine channel that separates Georges Bank to the southwest and Browns Bank to the northeast. The AOI includes a range of important and sensitive habitats and species. For example, at the mouth of the channel, where the waters of the Bay of Fundy drain into the Gulf of Maine, there are dense aggregations of cold-water corals and sponges which create habitat for all kinds of deep-water fish and invertebrates. The Browns Bank portion of the AOI provides habitat for dense sponge aggregations and populations of several depleted groundfish species.

A variety of sea life including small fish and a crab cluster around cold-water coral on the ocean floor.

This site also includes large areas of habitat for juvenile halibut and large, mature female lobster. The unique oceanography of the Fundian Channel makes this region highly productive. Its waters provide foraging habitat for other species including seabirds, leatherback sea turtles and blue and beaked whales. This site was proposed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in 2018. We are part of the advisory committee for this proposed MPA and are participating fully in the site evaluation and design process.

SeaBlue Canada: Raising the Bar for Marine Protection

SeaBlue Canada: Raising the Bar for Marine Protection

In addition to working on specific proposed and existing MPAs in Atlantic Canada, we advocate for improvements to national protected areas policy with a coalition of environmental non-governmental organizations collectively called SeaBlue Canada.  

SeaBlue is comprised of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Centre, Nature Canada, Oceans North, West Coast Environmental Law, and World Wildlife Fund Canada. Together, our goal is to hold the Canadian government accountable for protecting our oceans and its fragile sea life. We push for progress toward Canada’s international ocean protection commitments, improvements in the quality of protections and the establishment of connected protected area networks. Currently, we are particularly focused on the implementation of minimum protection standards for federal MPAs, which were first announced by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in 2019 but have yet to be fully defined and put into practice.