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Newest Marine Protected Area announced — four times the size of Vancouver Island off the coast of BC!

July 11, 2024

Unceded territories of the Coast Salish Peoples/Vancouver, BC – The newest Marine Protected Area (MPA), Tang.ɢ̱wan – ḥačxwiqak – Tsig̱is (ThT), was announced by the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, the Council of the Haida Nation, Pacheedaht First Nation, Quatsino First Nation and the Government of Canada. Located 150 km west of Vancouver Island, this protected area will safeguard rare seamounts and hydrothermal vents — ecological hotspots that are home to an array of wildlife, including species found nowhere else in the world.

“This MPA will safeguard rare deep-sea ecosystems that are home to species that get their energy not from the sun, like most life on Earth, but from chemicals released underwater vents. We all can now be proud to say that this incredible and important area is permanently protected,” says Carlo Acuña, Senior Conservation Campaigner for the Ocean Program at the Canadian Parks And Wilderness Society – British Columbia (CPAWS-BC). “This would not have been possible without the vision and leadership of the First Nations, who have deep connections to this incredible deep-sea place.

Tang.ɢ̱wan – ḥačxwiqak – Tsig̱is MPA will be collaboratively managed by the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council by the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, the Council of the Haida Nation, Pacheedaht First Nation, Quatsino First Nation and Canada. It will protect over 130,000 km2 of the ocean, an area 4 times larger than Vancouver Island, in Canada’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Habitats and species found at the bottom of the ocean are slow-growing and sensitive, and they are under threat from industrial activities. The establishment of a marine protected area by Canada’s Ocean Act means that deep-sea mining and the use of bottom-trawl gear will be restricted. Mineral exploration and exploitation activities would destroy the seamounts and the life around them. And bottom trawling, which uses heavily weighted nets that are dragged on the seafloor to indiscriminately capture any and all sea life, including rare and protected species and habitats, and those we have much to still discover and learn about.

“While these protections are good, we are still concerned about vertical zoning that allows fishing in biodiverse waters up to 100 m deep above two large seamounts. When ocean currents meet a seamount, they mix nutrients from the seafloor with sunlit shallower water. This fuels plankton growth which attracts a diverse array of wildlife to feed there. We hope the management plans will address this issue and ensure protection standards are in place,” added Acuña.

Protecting this area has been growing in momentum since 2003 when five hydrothermal vent fields became the site of Canada’s first marine protected area, the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents MPA. In 2017, much of what is now part of the MPA was designated as a fisheries closure, banning bottom contact fishing such as bottom trawling. In October 2022, a portion of the MPA that is inside Haida territory was declared a heritage site by the Council of the Haida Nation House of Assembly.

​​The seamounts in Tang.ɢ̱wan – ḥačxwiqak – Tsig̱is MPA are ancient underwater volcanoes, towering 3000 m above the seafloor, taller than Whistler Mountain. They serve as spawning sites for many species like skates, crabs, and octopuses. Marine mammals such as whales and dolphins and large predators such as sharks rely on them to feed and rest during migrations. The hydrothermal vents are like deep sea geysers or hot springs releasing superheated and mineral-enriched water. Unique wildlife here has adapted to obtain energy from chemicals released from the vents instead of the sun.

“There is so much to learn about the plants and animals that live around the towering underwater mountains and along hydrothermal vents with temperatures over 350 degrees Celsius. And now with long-term protection established, we can continue to learn about them while knowing they are protected,“ said Acuña.

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Government of Canada and coastal First Nations announce largest marine protected area in Canada

Tang.ɢwan – ḥačxʷiqak – Tsig̱is Marine Protected Area. Fisheries and Oceans Canada. June 26, 2024. 

Tang.ɢwan – ḥačxʷiqak – Tsig̱is Marine Protected Area Regulations: SOR/2024-122. Canada Gazette. June 10, 2024.

Government of Canada and coastal First Nations announce progress to protect a large ecologically unique ocean area off the Pacific West Coast. Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, Council of the Haida Nation, Pacheedaht First Nations, Quatsino First Nation, with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Feb 07. 2023. News release.

Video: Underwater volcano still active and covered in a million giant skate eggs. Cherisse Du Preez -DFO (YouTube).

Learn more about the deep-sea oasis that is the Tang.ɢwan – ḥačxʷiqak – Tsig̱is Marine Protected Ares.

Learn more about MPAs.

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