Canada's government is lagging behind much of the world when it comes to protecting marine areas along the country's borders, according to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
In an expansive report, the advocacy group notes that Nova Scotia and the Canadian government have made limited progress in the past 18 months on protecting important marine areas along the Canadian coastlines despite years of study documenting the need for stronger conservation measures to nurture critical sea life including North Atlantic Right Whales, deep water sponges and corals, and vulnerable fish such as the Atlantic wolffish.
CPAWS had issued a challenge to the federal government in June 2011 to protect 12 special marine areas by December 2012 as an important step towards creating long-needed networks of marine protected areas. By "networks," the group means an ecologically connected string of protected areas, as opposed to pockets of preservation without connection.
“In Nova Scotia, we’ve seen some progress towards protecting St. Anns Bank off Cape Breton, but a complete lack of progress in the Bay of Fundy,” said Martin Willison, Nova Scotia chapter president in a press release.
“Across Canada, we’ve seen marked progress by governments in protecting four of the sites, more limited progress on five, and no progress at all on three, so it’s not all bad news. However, other countries – most notably Australia – have pulled far ahead of us in protecting their oceans, leaving us with a mounting challenge to catch up,” added Sabine Jessen, CPAWS National Oceans program manager.
Twenty years ago, Canada established an international commitment to create a network of marine protected areas by 2012 in response to the growing threats to ocean life of overfishing, industrial development, pollution, and climate change.
“Canada has made some progress on developing a marine protected area network policy since 2011, but the failure to advance quickly on the 12 sites, or to move more speedily on getting protected area networks in place is serious cause for concern,” adds Ms. Jessen.
“The 12 sites we identified 18 months ago have long been studied, and the time was ripe to move ahead with protection measures, so it is frustrating that the pace of action has been so slow. And with cutbacks now to budgets at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment Canada and Parks Canada, we are seriously concerned about the government’s capacity to move ahead in creating and managing effective marine protected areas,” she added.
“It is like cutting off our noses to spite our faces. Marine protected areas are key to ensuring healthy stocks of fish and other forms of marine life for the future. There is absolutely no long term financial gain in failing to invest in marine protection.”
The 12 marine areas that CPAWS recommended for protection by December 2012 are spread across the country:
* In the Pacific, the Hecate Strait Glass Sponge Reefs, Scott Islands, Southern Strait of Georgia, and Big Eddy are areas providing important habitat for sea life including Tufted Puffins, endangered Orca whales, and rockfish.
* In the Atlantic, CPAWS recommended protecting the waters off the South Coast Fjords of Newfoundland, in the Laurentian Channel, St. Anns Bank off Nova Scotia, and parts of the Bay of Fundy, American Bank (La Gaspesie), and les Iles de la Madeleine in the Gulf of St Lawrence. These marine areas are home to a range of endangered sea life including Leatherback turtles, Right, Blue and Beluga whales, and nurseries for fish including herring, mackerel, flounder, and Atlantic cod.
* In the North, CPAWS called for protection of the Arctic Ocean’s Lancaster Sound – critical habitat for Narwhal and Bowhead whales, as well as a biologically rich area in James Bay off Quebec, called Tawich.
In its report, CPAWS credits governments for significant progress towards protection of St. Anns Bank off Nova Scotia, Hecate Strait Glass Sponge Reefs, the Southern Strait of Georgia, and the Scott Islands waters off British Columbia, but laments the total lack of progress towards protecting British Columbia’s Big Eddy, the Bay of Fundy, or the waters off the South Coast Fjords of Newfoundland.
CPAWS also raises concern that none of the 12 sites has received final legal protection, and the proposed conservation measures for the nine that have made some progress need strengthening to guarantee their long-term health.
CPAWS is recommending that Canada invest $35 million per year to create a network of Canadian marine protected areas.
"Based on studies in other countries, the financial gain from protecting places within our oceans that nurture sea life and create better conditions for sustainable fishing and other local industries such as eco-tourism, are significant. We simply can’t afford to continue being world laggards in marine conservation – for our own sake and that of our children and theirs to come,” said Ms. Jessen.