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Let’s protect marine wildlife before Energy East port decisions taken

This post is co-authored by Patick Nadeau, CPAWS Quebec Executive Director and Roberta Clowater, CPAWS New Brunswick Executive Director

After much public outcry and several legal proceedings,  the media is reporting that TransCanada is set to drop its plans for a petroleum port in Cacouna, Québec – an area within the St. Lawrence Estuary that provides shelter to threatened beluga whales during calving season.

We would of course welcome this news. Last year, CPAWS Québec joined with other conservation groups in taking TransCanada to court to stop the proposed port. We had done so because the St. Lawrence Estuary is the site of a long-standing marine protected area (MPA) project. Now that the ill-advised petroleum port has been abandoned, the next task is for the Governments of Canada and Québec to move full speed ahead in establishing the long-awaited MPA. Future industrial threats to this very rich marine environment can no longer be tolerated.

Unfortunately, our concerns don't end there. It now appears that all the oil from the Energy East pipeline  would be shipped from Saint John, New Brunswick, on the Bay of Fundy. Like the St. Lawrence Estuary, the Bay of Fundy is extremely rich marine habitat for numerous types of wildlife, including the endangered North Atlantic right whale.  It also provides important coastal wetland habitat for two million migratory shorebirds each year. The Bay supports multi-million dollar fisheries that provide thousands of local jobs.  

Yet as it stands, the Bay of Fundy does not have a comprehensive network of MPAs – only a single small MPA around the Musquash estuary.  With the possibility that all of the Energy East oil would now ship from Saint John, we are very concerned about this increased industrialization of the Bay of Fundy before conservation measures, including a network of marine protected areas, are put in place.

A recent CPAWS report noted that out of the 10 countries with the largest ocean estates, Canada ranks the lowest in terms of marine protected areas. At just over 1% of its ocean territory protected, Canada ranks lower than China at 2%, and much lower than Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, which have protected 36%, 30%, and 17% of their ocean respectively. Given that Canada has made international commitments to protect 10% of our ocean by 2020, we have a great deal of work to do in a short amount of time.  Protecting these areas within the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Bay of Fundy are part of the solution.