CPAWS report reveals Canada’s Marine Protected Areas need better protection

Half the area Canada is counting towards marine protection targets was assessed and majority is weakly protected.

October 28, 2021, traditional unceded Algonquin Territory/Ottawa, Ontario – Today, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) released The MPA Monitor (link to pdf), a first-of-its-kind assessment of the quality of Canada’s federal Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

The analysis examined 18 MPAs that make up 8.3% of Canada’s ocean. It found that 0.4 % of Canada’s ocean is strongly protected by federal MPAs, 5.7 % is weakly protected by federal MPAs, and 0.3 % is in federal MPAs that are incompatible with a conservation designation. One very large MPA, the Tallurutiup Imanga proposed National Marine Conservation Area covering 1.9% of Canada’s ocean, is only proposed and so was not scored.

The results were driven by two very large and weakly protected MPAs, the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area in B.C. and Tuvaijuittuq interim MPA in the Arctic. “We found that most Atlantic MPAs were strongly protected, Arctic MPAs tend to have weaker protection but fewer activities occurring, and B.C. was a mixed bag,” said Alex Barron, National Director of CPAWS’ Ocean Program.

MPAs are one of the most effective tools to restore ocean habitats, rebuild biodiversity, and help species adapt to climate change, but only when they are strongly protected and effectively managed. In 2019 Canada announced it had protected almost 14% of its ocean, exceeding the international goal of 10% by 2020, and has since committed to build on this to protect 25% of the ocean by 2025 and 30% by 2030.

“We are encouraged by Canada’s efforts and commitments to date, but this report shows that stronger protection is needed to ensure we are effectively restoring and protecting ocean ecosystems,” said Sandra Schwartz, CPAWS’ National Executive Director. “The re-elected federal government and the incoming Minister of Fisheries and Oceans needs to prioritize improving the quality as well as quantity of MPAs as we push to meet our 2030 conservation target,” Schwartz adds.

The CPAWS report focuses on 18 federally designated MPAs that cover about 8.3% of Canada’s ocean. “These MPAs were established under the most comprehensive legal tools and therefore should theoretically be the best protected areas in Canada’s ocean,” said Barron. “We are now working on assessing the rest of the sites Canada is counting towards its marine protection targets and those results will be presented in future reports.”

Questions about the quality of Canada’s ocean protection measures are not new. In 2019, in response to these concerns, the Government of Canada committed to minimum protection standards for all new federal MPAs that would prohibit bottom trawling, oil and gas, mining, and dumping, and to eventually review existing MPAs against these minimum standards.

Altogether, seven of the MPAs assessed are strongly protected, eight are weakly protected, two are incompatible with biodiversity conservation and the one proposed MPA has no regulations in place. The team found that implementing the federal government’s minimum protection standards throughout all 18 MPAs in the study would provide a critical basic level of protection and improve Canada’s scores under The MPA Guide framework. The MPA Guide was developed by an international team of experts. CPAWS is the first organization to assess Canada’s federal MPAs against both The MPA Guide and the minimum protection standards.

“Canada has shown leadership on ocean protection by exceeding the 10% target, setting an ambitious new target of 30%, and committing to implement minimum protection standards,” said Schwartz. “The science tells us that we need to strongly protect at least 30% of our ocean by 2030 if we are going to stand a chance of restoring ocean health, and The MPA Guide and The MPA Monitor show us how to do that.” 

Visit to read the full version of the report.



The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is Canada’s only charity dedicated to the protection of public land, freshwater and ocean with a strong national and regional presence across the country. Working in a way that respects the sovereignty and leadership of Indigenous nations, we are focused on conserving nature to respond to the dual crises of accelerated biodiversity loss and climate change. Our vision is that at least half of land, freshwater and ocean in Canada is permanently protected to sustain nature and people for current and future generations. For more information about CPAWS and the work we do to safeguard Canada’s natural heritage, visit Join our community on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Donate today. Take action.


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Jennifer (Jenn) Brown
Communications and Events Coordinator, National Ocean Program, CPAWS