Last week the fifth International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC5) gathered thousands of ocean conservation professionals and high-level officials on the unceded territory of the səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations, also known as Vancouver, British Columbia. Over the course of the week we heard hundreds of speakers echo the need for coordinated global action from all nations and cultures to protect the world ocean and the wildlife that calls it home. We heard inspiring seminars from Indigenous leaders, scientists, policy makers, activists and youth from across the world. One unifying goal rang clear: to protect 30% of our oceans by 2030. But how do we get there?
Globally, only about 8% of oceans are protected today – and even less than that can be considered “strongly protected”. The science is clear: to preserve marine life, safeguard food security and mitigate climate change, the global community must protect 30-50% of collective oceans. Canada currently has around 14% of the three oceans – the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic – protected using various conservation tools and policies such as marine protected areas (MPA), rockfish conservation areas (RCA), national marine conservation areas (NMCA), and national wildlife areas (NWA). With the clock ticking down rapidly to 2030, the fate of marine protection will boil down to political will and public pressure.
As the host nation, all eyes were on Canada to be a leader and to set the stage for committing to marine conservation at IMPAC5. Throughout the week, Canadian policy makers made announcements declaring plans to prioritize Indigenous led marine conservation, new MPAs, strengthening current and future MPA protection using legislative tools and investments into science and global marine conservation efforts.
After years of supporting the creation and implementation of the Northern Shelf Bioregion marine protected area network (NSB MPAn), we were thrilled to witness the endorsement of the network and Action Plan by Indigenous, provincial and federal governments. Once completed, the NSB MPAn will cover around 30,000 km2. Between 20-50% of the network will be strongly protected, meaning most extractive activities – such as fishing – will be prohibited. This will ensure the benefits of the MPAn are maximized for the ecosystem and adjacent coastal communities. The NSB MPAn is an Indigenous-led plan that weaves traditional ecological knowledge and western science. It is set to become a globally recognized initiative and inspire more Indigenous led conservation and co-governance worldwide.
In addition to the NSB MPAn, Canada declared plans for the establishment of Tang.ɢwan – ḥačxwiqak – Tsig̱is MPA. Located off the west of Vancouver Island, in the Offshore Pacific Bioregion, this MPA will cover 133,019 km2 (approximately 2.31% of Canada’s total ocean territory) of the offshore Pacific and protect a network of hydrothermal vents, seamounts and glass sponge reefs. Tang.ɢwan – ḥačxwiqak – Tsig̱is will co-developed and managed by the Haida, Nuu-chah-nulth, Pacheedaht and Quatsino nations and the Canadian government.
Within the Northern Shelf Bioregion, the Mamalilikulla First Nation, the provincial and federal government announced fisheries closures and the establishment of Canada’s first marine refuge. Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala – also known as Lull Bay and Hoeya Sound – was identified as an area that contains globally unique corals and sponges that provide habitat for over 240 marine species. Within the borders of Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala, all commercial, recreational and Food, Social and Ceremonial fisheries will be closed to safeguard this unique ecosystem for generations to come.
With three new protected areas and networks promised, Canada also announced a new policy to guide the establishment and management of 10 new national marine conservation areas (NMCAs). The new NMCA Policy Framework emphasizes the importance of collaboration and co-management with Indigenous peoples as well as prioritizing the protection of marine ecosystems and biodiversity. There are currently seven active proposals for new NMCAs in the Magdalen Islands, the Southern Strait of Georgia, the Central Coast of B.C., the northern coast of Labrador, and along James and Hudson Bays and at least three additional candidate sites have been confirmed.
Studies have shown that the most effective MPAs have high levels of protection from harmful and extractive human activities. In stride with the global cry from ocean scientists for more highly protected MPAs, Canada officially released the 2023 protection standards for MPAs and other key areas that will prohibit industrial activities, such as oil and gas exploration and exploitation, mining, dumping and bottom trawling. Canadian officials also declared a moratorium on deep sea mining within Canadian waters all together.
Finally, Canada announced two investments into ocean protection, one domestically and one internationally. Joyce Murray announced $46.5 million dollars in funding over five years to Oceans Networks Canada to enhance their world class ocean monitoring system. This research will help to provide real-time, open data to help better understand our changing oceans and mitigate climate change. $69.5 million dollars will go towards funding to protect and restore ocean ecosystems in developing countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Comoros and Madagascar.
Canada is nearly half way to our 30×30 goal. Over the next few years it is imperative that we hold our government accountable to their commitment to marine protection in Canada through coordinated action. Please join us in advocating for more protection, higher protection standards, effective monitoring and enforcement in our marine environment. Want to dive deeper into Pacific Wild’s marine campaigns and join the fight against under-represented threats to the marine environment?