Canada has the longest coastline in the world, and a marine area that is half the size of our country. But our marine ecosystems tend to be out of sight and out of mind, and they are in serious trouble.

Emerging science demonstrates that, like their terrestrial counterparts, marine and freshwater protected areas need to be connected so marine species can thrive.

Not only do these networks protect habitats from destructive activities like bottom trawling and mining, but they also ensure that species can reach breeding age and rear their young safely -- thus maintaining healthy populations inside and outside protected areas.

The threat


Scientific evidence shows overfishing is the single most serious threat to the health of our marine ecosystems.


Trawling, or fishing by dragging a net along the ocean floor, profoundly disturbs marine ecosystems. Both target and non-target fish and other organisms are killed by the trawl, and the seabed is physically altered. Frequent trawling prevents the intricate physical and biological structure of the seabed ecosystem from fully recovering.

Fish farming

The impacts of salmon fish farming have recently received much public attention. Pollution escapes the net cages; infectious diseases are spread to wild fish, and freshwater are colonized by escaped farm fish (including non-native Atlantic species). These are very real threats not only to the native salmon population, but to other fish, shellfish and marine mammals.

Oil and gas exploration and development

Seabirds, fish, shellfish, and eggs and larvae of all marine species are extremely vulnerable to oil spills. CPAWS is a member of the BC Alliance for the Preservation of the Offshore Oil and Gas Moratorium.

Climate change

The entire marine realm - from estuaries and coastal waters to the open ocean and the deep sea - is at risk from climate change.  As marine biodiversity declines, the remaining species are more vulnerable to changes in their habitat.

What CPAWS is doing

Our long-term goal:

  • Canada to complete a national network of marine protected areas that protect at least half of Canda's oceans, with an objective to meet the international target of protecting at least 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020

In the lead up to Canada’s 150th birthday, CPAWS is calling on the federal government to accelerate efforts to establish a national network of marine protected areas as an essential step to conserve marine life and support sustainable fisheries.

To achieve this CPAWS is calling on Canada to:

  1. Act quickly to complete the establishment of current marine protected area proposals;
  2. Launch regional marine protected areas planning processes to systematically identify marine protected area networks in all three oceans, including a large marine sanctuary of at least 150,000 sq km in each ocean.
  3. Ensure that in Canada's 13 marine bioregions, at least 30% is strictly protected - that is closed to all fishing, as well as non-renewable resource development.

Read CPAWS’ backgrounder for more info

CPAWS chapters working on oceans


Dare to be Deep – 2010 CPAWS Event Tour (2010)
Attracting hundreds of people nationwide, CPAWS' Fall 2010 Dare to be Deep tour showcased the success of Gwaii Haanas and the importance of marine protected areas.   See photos, videos and more from the tour.

SeaChoice.orgSeaChoice: Healthy Choices, Healthy Oceans
SeaChoice is a sustainable seafood program established by CPAWS, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Centre, Living Oceans, and Sierra Club BC. www.seachoice.org


Take Action!

Dare to be Deep: Protect Canada's ocean!
Dare to be Deep: Protect Canada's ocean!

Over 16,000 people have signed on in support of marine protection in Canada. Add your voice to support advancing marine conservation through the establishment of a network of marine protected areas!

Read more | Sign the pledge


Oceans Report: Dare to be Deep: Charting Canada’s Course to 2020 (2014)

The ocean supports a tremendous diversity of life from coastal areas to the deep sea, and contains 99% of the space available for life on Earth. From plankton to whales, marine species live in a delicate balance that can easily be disturbed by human activities, and cause a domino effect on species half-way around the world.

Canadian Wilderness Fall 2013 (2013)

This issue of Canadian Wilderness commemorates what CPAWS has accomplished in its first half century. It profiles some of the leaders who have built our organization over those 50 years and some of the staff and volunteers who carry on that tradition today.

Final report on oceans protection progress: How deep did Canada dare? (2012)

Report on oceans conservation finds Canada has made limited gains in protecting our coastal waters, with the federal government and other levels moving at too slow a pace to meet the challenge issued by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) to protect 12 special marine areas by December 2012.

Oceans Report 2012 (2012)

Is Canada on track to create 12 new marine protected areas by December 2012? Read the news release.

Science-based Guidelines for Marine Protected Areas and MPA Networks in Canada: Quick Reference (2011)

A quick overview of the Science-based Guidelines for Marine Protected Areas and MPA Networks in Canada

View more publications

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