Canada proposes large marine protected area in BC

Vancouver, BC – The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) cautiously welcomes the announcement of a potential new large marine protected area off the West Coast of Vancouver Island. “Today, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) revealed an area of interest for a new marine protected area that covers 140,000 km2, making it the largest ever proposed marine protected area on BC’s coast,” said Sabine Jessen, CPAWS’ National Ocean Program Director.

The area includes several seamounts and hydrothermal vent fields, both of which are important deep sea ecosystems according to Jessen and her colleagues. “We have long been pushing for Canada to designate large marine protected areas and we look forward to working with DFO to ensure that this site provides strong, meaningful protection for these important ecosystems,” said Jessen.

Seamounts are undersea mountains, that can reach thousands of meters in height. They create important habitat for marine life, and attract species like tuna, sharks, whales, and seabirds.  Hydrothermal vents, sometimes known as “black smokers”, are like underwater hot-springs that support unique communities of deep-sea creatures.

DFO has announced that “portions” of the potential marine protected area will be closed to bottom contact fishing, but conservationists say more is needed. “We know from recent polling that Canadians do not want any bottom trawling inside our marine protected areas, and the science clearly shows that large, strongly-protected marine protected areas that are completely closed to commercial fishing and industrial activities, are more effective at protecting marine biodiversity,” said Jessen.

This will not be the first MPA in Canada to protect seamounts or hydrothermal vents. Two of Canada’s oldest marine protected areas are the nearby SGaan Kinghlas – Bowie Seamount and the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents.

“Chile was the first country to protect seamounts from bottom trawling and there have been recent high profile campaigns to protect seamounts in California and on the high seas because they are such incredible hotspots for biodiversity. This marine protected area is an opportunity for Canada to be an international leader in conserving these globally important ecosystems,” said Alexandra Barron, CPAWS-BC’s Ocean Conservation Manager.

When it is designated, the new marine protected area will help move Canada significantly closer to its target of protecting at least 10% of our coastal and marine waters by 2020.  “A large, strongly-protected, offshore marine protected area (MPA) will complement Canada’s ongoing efforts to establish new MPAs and MPA networks across our coasts,” said Jessen.

“We are pleased to see the government take another significant step to protect our ocean ecosystem. We will continue to work with them to ensure that this site and the rest of Canada’s ocean is well protected, for generations to come” Jessen adds.