North America is failing to make a splash on ocean conservation

Vancouver – In the first joint conservation assessment of progress on marine protected areas (MPAs) in North America, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and the Marine Conservation Institute (MCI) finds Canada and the USA have a long way to go to collectively and individually reach international and national targets to protect at least 10% of the continental ocean estate.

“Despite the known effectiveness of marine protected areas (MPAs) in protecting ocean ecosystems in the long term, and our international commitment to protect at least 10% of our ocean estate by 2020, North America has collectively protected only 1% of ocean, and only .04% is in fully protected areas,” says Sabine Jessen, CPAWS’ National Ocean Program Director.

“In BC, only one of our marine protected areas, the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents MPA, is considered fully implemented, and it is so small that it covers less than 0.01% of Canada’s Pacific Ocean estate,” says Alexandra Barron, Ocean Conservation Manager at CPAWS-BC. “Bowie Seamount MPA and Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area have been designated, but neither has a final management plan so we consider them to be partially implemented,” adds Barron.

There are an additional four proposed new MPAs in BC: the Hecate Strait Glass Sponge Reef MPA, Race Rocks MPA, Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area and the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area. “These sites are really important in helping the government meet their commitment of protecting 5% of our ocean by 2017, but we are concerned that in some cases the government is proposing to allow harmful activities to continue within the MPA,” says Barron.

To prepare the assessment, CPAWS and MCI reviewed publicly available data provided by the governments of Canada, Mexico, and the USA on existing MPAs. Each site was evaluated against international criteria, including a legal designation, permanence, the presence of an administrative structure, and the existence of a management plan. Sites that met all four criteria were considered “implemented”, while any sites lacking an administrative structure or management plan were considered only “partially implemented” and were excluded from analysis.

“If we are going to protect the incredible variety of ecosystems in our ocean, and the diverse marine species that call them home, we need to do more. The ocean provides irreplaceable ecosystem services that have an estimated worth of $24 trillion dollars globally. Protecting the future of the ocean protects our future too,” says Dr. Lance Morgan, President, Marine Conservation Institute.

The Report outlines the need for urgent action, including recommendations to designate all currently proposed sites and partially implemented MPAs, implement strict interim protection measures, establish strategic MPA network planning, and secure full, permanent protection for at least 30% of each ecoregion, among other things.

“We have the opportunity to do the right thing, but we need sufficient and consistent funding for MPA establishment, stronger MPA legislation to help overcome jurisdictional complications, and multi-nation collaboration to create transboundary MPAs,” adds Jessen.

Other report highlights:
• According to our analysis, only 0.88% of the North American continental ocean estate is currently in “implemented” MPAs and only 0.04% is fully protected. Analysis of ecoregion coverage shows that of 23 continental North American marine ecoregions, 18 are safeguarded within any marine protected areas. Of these, only nine have more than one percent of the area protected.

• Canada is furthest behind in protecting its ocean estate with only 0.11% protected. Of this 0.03% is in the Arctic, 0.00% in the Pacific and 0.08% in the Atlantic. 14 proposed MPAs, if completed, would contribute another 2-3% to Canada’s MPA targets. Partially implemented MPAs could add an additional 0.78% to Canada’s total, but only if they had management plans and legislated regulation of marine activities like fishing. Just 0.02% is in strict no-take reserves, the rest is still open to commercial fishing, shipping, and industrial activities.

• Mexico has 43 MPAs covering a total of 50,873 km², protecting only 1.62% of its ocean territory. Out of this this total, 0.66 % is located in the Pacific Ocean, 0.46% in the Gulf of California, 0.33% in the Gulf of Mexico, and 0.17% in the Caribbean Sea. Out of Mexico´s 43 MPAs, 34 have been implemented and 9 are considered to be partially implemented. Partially implemented MPAs would add only an additional 0.08% coverage. There are currently five proposed MPAs under consideration that, if completed, would contribute another 19.8% to Mexico´s marine conservation efforts.

• The USA has protected only 1.29% of its continental, ocean estate (excluding Hawai’i and Pacific Island territories). Of this 0.00% is in the Arctic, 0.72% in the Pacific and 0.57% in the Atlantic/Gulf. A rigorous, quantitative account of fully protected areas in the waters of coastal states indicates the best-protected ones (excluding Hawai’i) are California, Oregon, and Florida. The majority of states still lack fully protected areas in their coastal waters. Only 0.03% of the total USA continental coverage is in fully protected areas; the rest is still open to commercial fishing, extraction, and industrial activities.


View full report