Nature Canada

What are Marine Protected Areas?

Canada is embraced by the ocean on three sides, giving it the longest coastline of any country. With so much coastline comes the responsibility to protect the sea and the species that call it home.

The ocean sustains life on our planet. It gives us air to breathe, food to eat, and stores 16 times the amount of carbon as land. But as you read this, human activity is decimating aquatic species, destroying delicate ecosystems, and threatening our future and way of life. 

Canada has a goal to protect 30 percent of our oceans by 2030 but what does “protection” mean and will we reach the 30×30 target?

What are Marine Protected Areas?

We can think of Marine Protected Areas as National Parks for the ocean.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are parts of the ocean where species, habitats, and ecosystems are legally protected and conserved under Canada’s Oceans Act. They are managed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada for long-term sustainability. Within an MPA, certain destructive uses and activities are prohibited, such as mining and oil and gas exploration.

MPAs safeguard more than just biodiversity. They also protect underwater archaeological sites and provide tourism opportunities. Wherever possible MPAs should be established and co-managed with Indigenous communities to benefit from Indigenous knowledge and promote and uphold Indigenous Peoples’ rights to their lands and waters.

Why are Marine Protected Areas important?

MPAs have countless benefits both for the environment and people. They protect genetic diversity, habitats, food webs, ecological processes, and species at risk of extinction like the southern resident orca on Canada’s west coast and the North Atlantic right whale on the east coast.

Southern Resident Killer Whale

MPAs improve and protect the health of marine environments, but they also support coastal communities, sustainable marine industries, and local economies. For First Nations communities, MPAs can safeguard cultural and historical features, traditional harvesting of food sources, provide economic benefits, and can even support research, education, and tourism.

Above all, every new MPA is another step towards achieving the federal government’s goal of protecting 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.

Looking back—and forward—at Marine Protected Areas

The Laurentian Channel Victory

In 2019, Canada’s federal government announced MPA status for the Laurentian Channel, a deep ocean valley that acts as an expressway for wildlife off the coast of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. This designation was made possible in part by Nature Canada supporters who signed letters and petitions in support of the campaign to protect the area’s whale population and other threatened wildlife.

Leatherback Turtle, Jason Isley/scubazoo

Thanks to supporters like you, every year at least 20 whale and dolphin species can migrate freely through the Laurentian Channel MPA. It is home to species at risk like the Leatherback Sea Turtle and Northern Wolffish, and it is one of the few places where Black Dogfish and Porbeagle Sharks can still give birth to their young.

The Laurentian Channel MPA is over 11,000 square kilometres, making it the second-largest MPA in Canada. But even at that size, the Laurentian Channel MPA only protects 0.2 percent of Canada’s Ocean. We will need a lot more big victories to reach the 30 percent by 2030 target.

Protecting the Pacific Deepsea Oasis

If you were to dive thousands of meters below the water’s surface off the coast of Vancouver, you would encounter a breathtaking seascape consisting of 13 underwater mountains, vast coral forests, and a complex ecosystem brimming with life. Black smoke billows from hydrothermal vents as they release hot, nutrient-rich water from the earth’s core.

Together, these mountains and deep-sea hot springs provide ideal habitat for life both big and small—from microscopic creatures to dolphins, rays, and octopus—not to mention species found nowhere else on earth.

Welcome to the Pacific Deepsea Oasis, a proposed MPA that is home to vital species like the rare ghost octopus, specialized sea cucumbers, sharks, blue whales and threatened orcas. This area and the species that inhabit it are at risk from mining and destructive fishing practices.

Add your voice today in support of protecting this fragile ecosystem from irreparable damage by establishing an MPA!

If the Pacific Deepsea Oasis is granted MPA status, it will gain protection from over-fishing and exploration for oil, gas, and minerals. This will safeguard unique species and preserve this fascinating area for scientific exploration.

30×30 is within reach – Protect Marine Areas Today

Canada’s goal to protect 30 percent of our oceans by 2030 won’t happen unless nature-lovers across the country demand it. Without legal protections, marine species and their habitats are vulnerable to human activity. This doesn’t have to be the case. Together, we can advocate for these essential areas that provide us with so much. 

Do even more to protect marine areas by becoming an Ocean Defender today!

Want to Help?

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