St. Anns Bank will be largest marine-protected area off Nova Scotia

Environmental groups are praising the federal government for planning to make St. Anns Bank, east of Scaterie Island, N.S., a marine-protected area.

4,364-square kilometre area

The ocean floor off St. Anns Bank, designated as a federal marine-protected site. (Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

Environmental groups are praising the federal government for planning to make St. Anns Bank, east of Scaterie Island, N.S., a marine protected area.

The government announced its proposed regulations Friday through its official newspaper, Canada Gazette.

Marine protection means the 4,364-square-kilometre area would be off-limits to oil and gas activities and bottom-trawling. Low-impact fishing would still be allowed in some areas.

"This is something that should be celebrated," said Susanna Fuller, senior marine coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax.

"This is a hard thing to get to because it does involve fishermen and shipping and telecommunications and all kinds of users of the marine environment, as well as conservation groups."

First in a decade

Before the protection becomes official, it needs one final round of public consultation.

According to Nova Scotia's chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), St. Anns Bank will be the largest marine-protected area off the province's coast and one of the first established in a decade. It also notes the marine-protected area would make "an important contribution" to Canada's target of protecting 10 per cent of its ocean by 2020.

St. Anns Bank off the coast of Cape Breton is designated as the latest marine-protected area for Nova Scotia. (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society)
The society said the area is important for marine creatures like the leatherback sea turtles, deep-sea corals and sponges. It says less than one per cent of Canada's oceans are currently designated as marine protected.

'The right direction'

Chris Miller, the society's national conservation biologist, said in a news release there is still a long way to go to catch up.

"St. Anns Bank is an important site for conservation on its own, but it also moves Canada in the right direction toward achieving our national biodiversity conservation targets," Miller said in the release.

One of the reasons the area was chosen is because of its low fishing activity, so the economic impact will be minimal.

"From a protection perspective, it didn't face an incredible amount of opposition," Fuller said.

With files from Michael Gorman