Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are protected areas that include at least some oceanic territory. The degree of protection offered by these territories varies wildly, from a restriction on fishing seasons to an outright ban on any sort of exploitation. As ocean exploitation approaches a critical level, these areas provide some protection for marine biodiversity, and will be available to play a role in any fisheries recovery. In order to have value, though, large areas of the ocean need to be protected, all over the planet. This is the greatest failing in these protected areas, the very limited amount of the oceans that can be used as sanctuaries.
Once again, Canada fails to live up to its promise and potential as an environmental leader. World-wide, there are over 5,000 MPAs. The United States alone has over 1,600. Canada, including the newly-announced Gwaii Haanas MPA, has 8. Yes, the United States has over 200 times the number of MPAs as Canada. New Zealand, with a land area roughly ⅓ the size of Alberta, has 30, with plans to protect at least 10% of their territorial waters. Canada’s contribution to the world’s storehouse of marine biodiversity is scarcely worth mentioning.
Aside from the new site proposed for Gwaii Haanas, here are Canada’s Marine Protected areas:
The Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents, on the Pacific sea floor about 250 kilometres west of Vancouver Island, marks Canada’s first Marine Protected Area. This seismically-active region features a rich and diverse eco-system, including life-forms that can survive at temperatures of over 120 degrees Celsius.
The Bowie Seamount MPA (Sgaan Kinghlas) encompasses a complex of three offshore submarine volcanoes. It is located 180 km west off the shore of Haida Gwaii, and rises from a depth of 3,000 metres to within 24 meters of the surface, which makes it the shallowest seamount in Canada. It is a rare habitat in the northeast Pacific Ocean and one of Earth’s most biologically rich submarine volcanoes. This ecosystem is an area of high biological productivity and unique oceanographic conditions.
The Musquash Estuary, on the Bay of Fundy, provides a rich habitat for a variety of commercial and non-commercial fisheries and wildlife. Located approximately 20 kilometres southwest of the city of Saint John, New Brunswick, the estuary is unique in the Bay of Fundy, for its large size and undisturbed condition.
Basin Head is a shallow coastal lagoon located on the eastern tip of Prince Edward Island, near the town of Souris. The lagoon is surrounded by both agricultural land and an extensive sand dune system. Approximately 5 kilometres long, Basin Head is a unique coastal environment, with many different types of animal and plant life in the area. Most notable is a unique type of Irish moss that is found nowhere else in the world.
The Gully is a deep submarine canyon approximately 200 kilometres off Nova Scotia, and east of Sable Island, right on the edge of the Scotian Shelf. Here, the seafloor suddenly drops away over two and a half kilometres. It was formed thousands of years ago by erosion when sea levels were much lower. Over 65 kilometres long and 15 kilometres wide, the Gully is one of the most prominent undersea features on the east coast of Canada.
Gilbert Bay is approximately 300 km from Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Labrador’s southeast coast. The bay is 20 km in length but less than 100 m deep, with only two narrow outlets to the sea. Scientists from Memorial University of Newfoundland have conducted research in Gilbert Bay and have found the habitat supports a resident population of genetically distinct Atlantic cod.
The Eastport Peninsula is located approximately three hours drive from St.John’s, Newfoundland. This rugged coastline is interrupted by a number of headlands, coves, and beaches. The rich, productive waters surrounding the Eastport Peninsula are host to a wide range of groundfish, pelagic fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and aquatic plants.
Of the seven current MPAs in Canada, two are in the Pacific, five in the Atlantic, and there are none in the Arctic Ocean. Gwaii Haanas will add a third on the Pacific side. If Canada is serious about protecting marine spaces, then much more work needs to be done. Recently, forest companies and environmental groups worked out a plan to protect 25% of Canada’s boreal forest. Even if Canada were only to match New Zealand’s commitment to maritime protection, at only 10%, that would be a significant improvement over the situation as it is today.
For the country with the second longest coastline in the world to only have 8 Marine Protected Areas goes past embarrassing, and becomes dangerously close to being a bad joke. Unfortunately, the Canadian government seems determined to keep telling the same bad joke in relation to Canada’s environmental policy.