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Canada needs to dive deep to reach 2020 ocean protection goals: new CPAWS report

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Ottawa -- In a new report released today, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society reveals 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.  The 10% target is a step on the way to a longer-term goal of protecting 50% of our ocean estate – to give the full diversity of marine life the best possible chance of recovery and survival,” says CPAWS National Oceans Program Director Sabine Jessen.

Economically, large networks of marine protected areas will be essential for Canada to sustain our fisheries into the future, These networks are also important for coastal communitieswho rely on eco-tourism activities such as whale-watching, kayaking and diving to diversify their economies.

Jessen and her colleagues examined three other jurisdictions, which have taken a network approach to MPA establishment – Scotland, Australia and California, and identified eight factors we need to address if we are going to catch up with faster jurisdictions in the ocean protection fleet.

“The first thing Canada needs is more political leadership in marine protection.  In every successful case we studied, elected government representatives demonstrated a strong will to act which was critical in moving the marine conservation agenda forward,” says Jessen.

Jessen also notes that successful marine protection efforts included:

  • timelines and milestones that were largely met;
  • open and transparent processes for engaging stakeholders and making decisions;
  • dedicated on-going funding;
  • socio-economic research;
  • science to inform decision-making about which areas to protect; and
  • a comprehensive rather than site-by-site approach to creating networks of marine protected areas.

“We recognize that Canadian governments have taken some steps on marine conservation in the past few years, but it is not nearly enough, given the urgent need for ocean protection,” says Jessen.

Recent actions noted in the CPAWS report include:

  • a 2014 National Conservation Plan commitment of $37 million over 5 years to strengthen marine and coastal conservation, which falls significantly short of the Green Budget recommendation of $35 million per year;
  • a 2011 agreement by federal, provincial and territorial governments to a National Framework for Canada’s Network of Marine Protected Areas; 
  • the release of  scientific identification of marine bioregions for Canada’s entire ocean estate; 
  • a draft Canada-BC MPA network strategy for the Pacific coast although final strategy still not released;
  • a Canada- Québec Agreement  to create  three new MPAS in the St Lawrence; and
  • Québec’s commitment to reach 10% marine protection by 2015, making it the only provincial or territorial jurisdiction to date with a quantified target.

“These are all worthy actions, but together they are not a concerted plan of action for creating the badly-needed networks of marine protected areas for Canada’s extensive ocean estate within a reasonable time frame,” says Jessen.

Pollution, climate change effects, overfishing and destructive fishing methods, increased marine traffic and industrial developments are putting the health of our ocean at risk. The report also contains original infographics that dramatically illustrate how Canada ranks in marine protection compared to other countries.

For interviews, contact Sabine Jessen,

For high resolution photos and graphics, contact: Alexandra Barron,

View full report

View the photo blog of our launch event

Media Coverage

CBC: Marine areas better protected by China than Canada, report finds

Globe and Mail: Canada lags in protecting oceans: report

Global TV: Protecting Canada's Coastline

CTV Power Play: Protecting Canada's Coasts

Maclean's: Canada ranks last in marine protection