Nfld. & Labrador

Canada should protect 30% of its oceans: UN environment observer

Canada is far behind other developing countries in protecting its marine resources according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Ottawa says it plans to meet its international obligations by the end of this year.
Kayakers in Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area, British Columbia. (Parks Canada)

The world's largest environmental network says Canada falls far short of protecting its marine resources compared to other developed countries.

"Canada has not done so much for marine protection as the United States or many European countries, like Germany, for example," said Carl Gustaf Lundin, director of the Global Marine and Polar Programme at the Switzerland-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

The IUCN provides advice on conservation, biodiversity, and sustainable natural resource use to the United Nations. 

Canada has not done much for marine protection.- Carl Gustaf Lundin, IUCN

A group of 15 Canadian marine conservation scientists recently wrote to Ottawa asking it to take steps to meet a 2016 IUCN resolution mandating governments to safeguard Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) from commercial fishing and oil and gas activities.

Lundin agrees with the scientists. "Canada needs to step up and actually do more," he said. "I think we all share the view that we should put aside 30 per cent of marine areas for conservation and in Canada it's maybe one per cent so I think there's a long way to go."

Canada will meet 2017 target

Jeff MacDonald, director general of oceans and fisheries policy, said that the federal Liberals plan to meet the IUCN target of protecting five per cent of Canada's ocean environment by the end of this year, and 10 percent by 2020.

Part of the Eastport Marine Protected Area in Happy Adventure, Newfoundland. (Emilie Novaczek)

MacDonald said Canada currently protects 1.54 per cent of its oceans and that Ottawa will announce other other areas to be protected in the next few months.

"I think the government has invested a lot in the last two years on the marine conservation objectives," said MacDonald.

"There was a significant investment in our science sector in the 2016 budget and meeting the marine conservation targets that we have set for ourselves."Last week a bill was introduced in the House of Commons to amend the Oceans Act.

MacDonald said he met with scientists in Ottawa and they were pleased with the steps the government is taking.

"It was widely praised because it was seen as a way of affording interim protection while some of the management decisions regarding MPAs are being finalized," said MacDonald.

Pressure from other industries

Lundin claims that in countries such as Canada, with strong extractive resource industries, these often take precedence over ocean conservation. 

MacDonald says the oil and gas is a very important marine activity in Canada, especially in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"They are an important industry and a stakeholder in the process, just like the shipping, or the fishing industry or the tourism industries that use marine space," he said.

'I think the government has invested a lot in the last two years on the marine conservation objectives.' - Jeff MacDonald,  DFO

With increasing attention on the prospect of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, Lundin is concerned about the environmental risks.

"Particularly when you're in cold waters you need to be extra careful because an oil spill will have very long-term consequences in an Arctic setting," Lundin said. "My suggestion would be in the short term that Canada should actually have a moratorium on further oil exploration in the Arctic."

The protection of ocean resources is often found to be in conflict with natural resource-based industries. (CBC)

Canada is currently planning to designate three MPAs. "The Laurentian Channel area will be open for public comments very soon," said MacDonald.

Scientists are opposed to 80 per cent of the area remaining open to oil and gas activity.

MacDonald said MPA development is an open and transparent process and people who have views will have an opportunity to voice them.