New CPAWS report underlines weaknesses in British Columbia’s marine protected areas

  • Published on Jun 01 2015 |
  • This article is tagged as: oceanplanning


June 1, 2015

New CPAWS report underlines weaknesses in British Columbia’s marine protected areas

Vancouver, B.C. -- In its annual report released today on Canada’s progress in protecting its ocean, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) has found that the regulations and policies governing existing marine protected areas (MPAs) are too often weak or confusing.

“It is worrying that human activities known to harm ocean ecosystems are permitted in any of Canada’s marine protected areas. Yet they are, including in British Columbia, and these activities include oil and gas exploration, shipping, large-scale commercial and recreational fishing, and dredging and dumping,” says Sabine Jessen, CPAWS National Oceans Program Manager.

“For example, in the proposed MPA in the Scott Islands, activities such as commercial shipping and fishing will still be allowed to continue at current levels, putting at risk the health of numerous seabirds and the entire marine ecosystem that the MPA is supposed to be protecting,” adds Jessen. “We have recently witnessed the potential consequences of oil spills and collisions with whales right on our doorstep in Vancouver.”

To prepare its nation-wide assessment, CPAWS reviewed publicly available data, regulations and management plans published by federal agencies about their marine protected areas. Where information was not publicly available, it submitted requests to the relevant government agencies.

“In the case of provincial sites, protection from the activities we focused on requires federal agencies to exercise their legal mandates, which generally does not appear to be the case,” says Jessen. “In fact, BC officials have in the past requested that Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) implement fishing closures in provincial marine parks and ecological reserves, but to our knowledge, this has not been done.”

“We were very surprised that the rules for Canada’s MPAs at both the federal and provincial levels are not clearer about prohibited activities from the outset. Only the National Marine Conservation Areas Act has clear prohibitions on oil and gas activities” says Alexandra Barron, Marine Conservation Coordinator at CPAWS-BC and one of the lead researchers.  Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve in Haida Gwaii is the first, and so far only, MPA to be established under this legislation.

Other report highlights:

•  A comparison of G20 Countries by the U.S. Marine Conservation Institute, found only .11% of Canada's ocean estate is fully closed to all extractive uses (including oil and gas and fishing activities), leaving Canada far behind many other G20 countries. For example, the U.S. and U.K. have nearly 10% of their ocean estate fully closed to extractive activities, South Africa's and Australia's are at 4% and Russia's are at .59%.

• Although underwater oil and gas exploration and development pose a major threat to marine life, CPAWS found that in one-third (8) of Canada`s 23 federally designated marine protected sites there is no permanent prohibition of these activities.

• Overfishing and harmful fishing activities pose a serious threat to marine life. Properly designed marine protected areas provide essential "nurseries" for fish to breed and grow into healthy adults.  However, CPAWS found that less than 600 km2 within federally designated MPAs, representing .01% of Canada's ocean estate, are designated as "no fishing" zones.

• CPAWS researchers found that MPA regulations and plans were often unclear about what activities were permitted or not within their borders.  In many cases, a list of restricted activities within a specific MPA is followed by an equally long list of exclusions and exemptions, calling into question the true value of the regulations.

“With just 1.3% of Canada’s vast ocean estate officially “protected”, our concern about marine conservation is higher than ever.  As we reported last year, Canada needs to significantly increase in the amount of our ocean designated as protected to catch up to countries like the Australia, where 30% of its ocean estate is legally protected. Now we’re also recommending much stronger and consistent management rules for all of our MPAs,” says Barron.

“In BC, we are hoping that when the proposed MPA for the Hecate Strait glass sponge reefs is announced, that it will protect these globally unique reefs from all damaging activities,” says Sabine Jessen. These glass sponge reefs have been shown to be important habitat and nursery areas for a variety of fish and other marine species.

“Science shows that strong networks of MPAs can help to support fisheries and ensure resiliency in the ocean in response to climate change.  In order to achieve these benefits we are encouraging Canada to strengthen MPA regulations,” adds Jessen.  “We’re recommending that the Government of Canada takes a much more proactive approach, working with the provincial government, to put strong and clear regulations in place for marine protected areas so that these places can live up to their name.”


View full report at:

For media interviews, contact: Sabine Jessen – National Director, Oceans Program, or at 604-657-2813 (cell), or Alexandra Barron –Marine Conservation Coordinator, CPAWS-BC, or at 604-783-7835 (cell)

For high resolution photos and graphics, contact: Michelle Sz,

See some of the media coverage here:

Global News Interview with Sabine Jessen

Global BC Interview with Alexandra Barron

Globe and Mail: Canada lags in protecting oceans: report

CTV News: Canada not doing enough to protect ocean ecosystems: report

Kelowna Now: Canada Needs to Do More to Protect Oceans: Report