China protects a greater percentage of its marine areas from development than Canada, according to a new report being released today from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

The environmental group looked at 10 countries with the longest coastlines, and ranked them according to how much of that marine area was protected from development.

'I guess what it says is it just hasn't been a political priority and it hasn't been a political priority for a very long time.'— Sabine Jessen, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society

Canada comes in last with one per cent, just behind China at two per cent. Australia leads the way, protecting 33 per cent of its ocean real estate.

Sabine Jessen, the national director of the oceans program at the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, wrote the report about marine protection.

"It's very disappointing. And it's not for lack of public support for protecting the ocean," Jessen says. "I guess what it says is it just hasn't been a political priority and it hasn't been a political priority for a very long time."

The United States comes in second, setting aside 30 per cent of its marine spaces.

Protection of ocean areas

(Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society)

Boris Worm, a marine research ecologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, points to the Georges Bank in the U.S. as an example of how a marine protected area can help the environment and the local fishing industry.

The U.S. declared the area near Nantucket a protected zone 20 years ago, when fish stocks were on the verge of collapse.

Today, Worm says, many species have come back, especially haddock.

"By now it has increased tenfold, so that says it's higher now than it's ever been before. And it's insanely lucrative," Worm says.

Scallops have also rebounded and can be found outside the protected area, creating a multimillion dollar industry.

Jessen says a clear indication Canada needs to do more is the species at risk list, which contains 11 types of whales and six other marine animals.

Both Jessen and Worm say what is needed in political leadership.

'There's people who are working on these protected areas. I know them. There's plans in drawers. But they're not being implemented.'— Boris Worm, marine research ecologist, Dalhousie University

They say work is being done to prepare marine areas for protection, but the work appears to have stalled.

"There's people who are working on these protected areas. I know them. There's plans in drawers. But they're not being implemented," Worm says.

Jessen agrees saying, "One of the things we do show in the report is if we could just finish some of the sites the government has indicated they want to protect, if we could just get those done, that could take us to roughly four per cent."

The federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea wasn't available for an interview.

But a statement from her office states, "We remain committed to meet our target of protecting 10 per cent of our oceans by 2020 under the International Convention on Biological Diversity. As mentioned in the report, this goal is within reach.”

Her office points out that since 2006, the Harper government has designated three new marine protected areas and created three national wildlife areas, including a sanctuary for bowhead whales.

The report says the federal government has taken some positive steps, including the recent announcement of a National Conservation Plan that includes funding of $37 million over five years.

But Jessen says that's how much money is needed every year, if Canada hopes to meet its target.