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Five Things To Know About the Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area Network

Earlier this year, we celebrated that 15 Indigenous Nations, BC, and Canada endorsed the Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area Network Action Plan. What did this mean exactly?

Here are 5 things you should know about the Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area Network:

1) Many years, many voices

The Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area Network was created collaboratively by Indigenous and coastal communities from North Vancouver Island, along the Central Coast to the North Coast and across to Haida Gwaii. 

For over 10 years, there have been many meetings and conversations with people who live and work on the coast, including the fishing, tourism, and environmental sectors. 

Together, governance partners—First Nations, federal and provincial governments—and stakeholders have developed a plan that will protect the vibrant network of life in the Great Bear Sea for generations to come. 

Right: Photo of Coastal Guardian Watchmen collecting data on marine species 
Photo Credit: Georgia Lloyd-Smith

2) More fish in the ocean

Right now, we see fish populations in Pacific Canada at a fraction of their historical levels [1]. The Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area Network is a tool to help rebuild fisheries and recover ecosystems, limiting catches of certain species should be coupled with protecting habitats where marine life feed, breed, and grow up. 

We can look at long-term studies from other areas to see the real and powerful benefits of marine protected areas for helping fisheries and improving food security. One example is the marine protected area network established in California a decade ago which has already shown encouraging results, including more and larger fish beyond the boundaries of the protected areas, including species targeted by fisheries [2][3]. Over the first 10 years, local fisheries either improved or stayed the same in terms of catch, effort and dollar value [4]

Left: Photo of a China Rockfish
Photo Credits: Ed Bierman (CC by 2.0); CDFW by Christy Juhasz (CC by 2.0)

3) Defence from many different threats

Marine protected areas limit activities that threaten marine life. Whether it’s the loss of critical ecosystems like cold water corals and sponges, seagrass and kelp or impacts on marine animals from ship dumping, we can reduce threats to ocean health by managing destructive human activities. Canada has committed to ban the most harmful activities in all marine protected areas, these include oil and gas, mining, bottom-trawling, and dumping. When the damage and destruction from these industrial activities is removed, these areas are refuges that better support marine life and whole ecosystems to adapt to other threats, such as warming waters and ocean acidification [5][6]

Right: Photo of ferry and dolphins swimming nearby.
Photo credit: Markus Thompson

4) Benefits far beyond the boundaries

Marine protected areas provide both direct and indirect benefits to local economies and beyond. Marine protected areas help rebuild and sustain fisheries. They’re a proven tool to help enhance community involvement and support marine tourism. Local economies also benefit from creating conservation-related jobs such as monitoring, management, and research [7][8].

Marine protected areas also protect the ecosystem services these areas provide, such as protecting key coastal habitats that reduce the vulnerability of communities to climate change threats such as storm damage, flooding and coastal erosion [9], and protecting and restoring kelp forest and seagrass meadows that help the sequestration of carbon [10]. Moreover, a healthy, safe, and thriving ocean uplifts cultural and spiritual values across generations. 

Left: Photo of humpback whale and kayakers
Photo credit: Markus Thompson

5) Supercharge conservation effectiveness!

Establishing a connected network of marine protected areas in the Great Bear Sea will defend and support a diversity of habitats. By establishing a network of marine protected areas rather than creating individual protected areas without considering the connections across the ocean, will supercharge their effectiveness. This is the opportunity to work together across communities and sectors to amplify the benefits of individual protected areas and ensure the large-scale processes that keep ecosystems and wildlife populations healthy will remain.

Right: Photo of Mama Inlet.
Photo Credits: Markus Thompson

What's next?

A healthy ocean full of fish, kelp, and whales, and is part of the legacy we want to leave for our children and grandchildren. 

After years of work to develop the draft action plan for the Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area Network, the announcement in February 2023 meant that everyone can continue working on the details to make the plan a reality. Equipped with the long-standing process between Indigenous Nations and governments, input advisory tables with stakeholders, and feedback during the public consultations, we can build on these collaborations.

Debra Sinarta, Marine Research Coordinator
Kate MacMillan, Ocean Conservation Manager

Left: Photo of Mama Inlet.
Photo Credits: Markus Thompson

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CPAWS BC has been working with decision makers and stakeholders, including local communities and fishers, to support the Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area Network for over 10 years , and we want to ensure that you know all about it. Over the next few months, we will be posting blogs about different topics related to this part of the ocean and what’s happening on and in the water.

Learn more about the Great Bear Sea at