Ottawa looking at 3 new marine conservation areas off Nova Scotia coast

The federal Fisheries Department announced a proposed trio of Atlantic Ocean sites off the coast of Nova Scotia today, saying the move supports Ottawa's commitment to protect 10 per cent of Canadian waters by 2020.

Proposed trio of sites aimed at supporting Ottawa's commitment to protect 10% of Canadian waters by 2020

The waters around the Eastern Shore Islands of Nova Scotia, shown in a handout photo, have been announced by Fisheries and Oceans Canada as an 'area of interest' for a marine protected area. (Peter Green/Canadian Press)

Canada's Ocean Playground could soon have three new marine conservation areas.

The federal Fisheries Department announced the proposed sites off the coast of Nova Scotia on Thursday, saying the move supports Ottawa's commitment to protect 10 per cent of Canadian waters by 2020.

"Our oceans are under considerable stress from climate change, pollution and the over exploitation of certain species," said Chris Miller, executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society's Nova Scotia chapter.

"This is something that will help with protecting biodiversity in the ocean."

The Eastern Shore Islands, a dense archipelago southeast of Halifax, and the Fundian Channel-Browns Bank area on the Scotian Shelf south of Yarmouth have been identified as areas of interest for future designation.

A third area — a 36,000-square-kilometre area east of Sable Island called the Eastern Canyons — has been put forward as a new conservation area under the Fisheries Act.

"We're asking the government to prohibit heavy industrial activities within these sites," Miller said. "There shouldn't be any oil and gas exploration or development, aquaculture or bottom trawling in those areas."

Lower-impact fishing, such as lobster fishing along the Eastern Shore, should be accommodated to balance conservation with existing inshore fishing activities, he said.

Areas for spawning, foraging

Susanna Fuller, senior marine co-ordinator with the Ecology Action Centre, said the areas chosen for conservation include vulnerable deep-sea corals and depleted groundfish.

"We welcome this progress and look forward to working with the fishing industry, coastal communities as well as the federal government on the next steps," she said in an emailed statement.

Fuller said protecting the marine environment is important to coastal livelihoods.

The 2,000-square-kilometre Eastern Shore area includes hundreds of islands and is rich in eelgrass, kelp and salt marsh, according to the Fisheries Department. It's a traditional spawning area for groundfish and a foraging area for birds.

The Fundian Channel-Browns Bank area is a 7,000-square-kilometre shelter, feeding and nursery area for commercial and non-commercial species, with significant concentrations of sponges and corals.

The Eastern Canyons proposed conservation area is a deep-sea ecosystem known to be vulnerable to disturbance, the department said.