Some of the country's top marine conservation scientists are calling on Ottawa to live up to its own targets to protect Canada's coastlines from industrial activity such as commercial fishing and oil and gas development. 

Fifteen university scientists from St. John's to Victoria have written to Dominic LeBlanc, the minister of fisheries and oceans and Catherine McKenna, minister of environment and climate change asking for stiffer conservation measures in Canada's 12 marine conservation areas (MPAs) as well in as those being proposed in the future.

 Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area

Kayakers in Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, British Columbia. (Parks Canada)

In November 2015, the federal Liberals pledged to protect five per cent of Canada's marine and coastal environment by 2017. The total area designated as protected would double to 10 per cent by 2020 as part of a global agreement under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Less than one per cent of Canada's waters are currently protected.

Not living up to commitments

Dr. Rodolphe Devillers, a professor of geography at Memorial University of Newfoundland, said Canada has signed onto international agreements that it falls short of upholding.

"In Canada we have a lot of very weak regulations so we tolerate a lot of industrial activities ... mostly fishing and oil and gas activities," said Devillers.

Emilie Novaczek

Marine protected area (MPA) in Eastport, Newfoundland is falling short on larger conservation goals.

Legislation governing marine protected areas comes under the Oceans Act. Devillers said the drawback is that it does not define what a marine protected area is and because of that it does not meet international standards for MPAs. 

'In Canada we have a lot of very weak regulations.' - Rodolphe Devillers, Memorial University

"What we're saying is that there is a difference in what Canada says it shall do and what it needs to do to meet these international agreements," said Devillers.

He said a number of existing MPAs are being re-evaluated without any scientific input.

Devillers argues that Ottawa should give marine protected areas the same status as national parks where activities that could harm the ecosystem are banned.