Marine protection for Bay of Fundy pushed by baykeeper

The New Brunswick Conservation Council's Fundy baykeeper wants Ottawa to move ahead with plans to designate much of the Bay of Fundy as a marine protected area.

Open house held to discuss protecting 16 ecologically sensitive areas within the Bay of Fundy

Fundy Baykeeper Matthew Abbott believes future threats from heavy industry could be eliminated for the Bay of Fundy by designating much of it a marine protected area. (CBC)

The New Brunswick Conservation Council's Fundy baykeeper wants to see Ottawa move ahead with plans to designate much of the Bay of Fundy as a marine protected area.

Matthew Abbott attended an open house held by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in St. George on Wednesday and said there were many "lively discussions" about the future of the bay.

The tides here drive a really unique and diverse ecosystem.- Matthew Abbott

Sixteen areas which are considered to be ecologically sensitive have been identified by DFO.

"The Bay of Fundy is a special place. I think all of us that live here know it," Abbott told Information Morning Saint John.

"There's quite a cluster of [habitats] in southwest New Brunswick around Grand Manan, Deer Island, Campobello Island and right in ... to Passamaquoddy Bay," Abbott said.

The identification of the 16 areas reinforces what Abbott said he's always known about the Bay of Fundy.

"It sort of hits above its weight ecologically if you think about it. It's really not a huge area but the tides here drive a really unique and diverse ecosystem," Abbott said.

"All it takes is a day on the water to realize that we are in a special place and that there's a lot of areas above the water, through the water column and certainly on the sea bottom that are doing a lot ecologically."

An area known as critical habitat for the right whale is among the sites being considered for marine protection in the Bay of Fundy. (CBC)
Abbott points to a large horse mussel reef near the Nova Scotia side of the bay and the right whale critical habitat as examples of special areas.

"The right whale critical habitat is a place they've been known to gather over the years and there's the way the currents and tides move through there ... it's what makes it particularly hospitable to them."

Another unique area is between Deer Island and Eastport, Maine, which is home to the largest tidal whirlpool in the western hemisphere.

"You've got tide hitting it from four or five different directions as the tide has to whip around all these different islands and it forms some water that I'll just say is exciting to go through in a boat and you want to make sure that your motor is working and you're not going to run out of gas," he laughed.

Marine protection would stop industrial threats

Abbott said there is a wide range of opinions in the area when it comes to designating parts of the Bay of Fundy as a marine protected area.

He heard a lot of concern from people at the open house that the protection could cause some harm to people economically.

"This is some of the most biologically significant and interesting and exciting waters but they're also … really important economically to our coastal communities. It's where a lot of the fishery and tourism and other activities happen."

But Abbott says protecting marine areas isn't the same as protecting land and fishing could still be allowed in parts of the Bay of Fundy.

"Marine protected areas can be relatively smaller sites spread around or it could be a larger site that has zones. Some places for fishing — maybe a small area where there isn't fishing."

Abbott believes the most important part of a marine protected area is the protection it offers against future heavy industrialization.

"I think we're going to see more and more interest in things like sea bed mining, oil and gas development in some of our coastal waters so that's one of the reasons I'm really looking seriously at this issue and interested in the possibility of more marine protected areas in our region."

The Trudeau government has made a commitment to increase the protection of marine and coastal environments to 5 per cent by 2017 and 10 per cent by 2020.

with files from Information Morning Saint John