The Deepsea Oasis: Protecting Canada’s Unique Biodiversity
By Sonia Singh Jind, Ocean Conservation Coordinator
Many industries require minimum standards to ensure quality and consistency. Whether it’s Apple controlling the quality of iPads, health organizations demanding safety standards for medications, or governments ensuring their public schools meet certain basic criteria, minimum standards help ensure our aims are being adequately met and create enforceability of those aims. Why shouldn’t our Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have minimum standards too?
One proposed marine protected area that really exemplifies the need for minimum standards is the Deepsea Oasis, officially known as the Offshore Pacific MPA. This 140,000 square kilometer area lays hundreds of kilometres off the west coast of Vancouver Island, and is home to unique marine life that lives on seamounts and hydrothermal vents, some of Earth’s most fascinating ocean ecosystems. Over 500 species have been discovered living on hydrothermal vents since their discovery in 1977, and an estimated 80 percent or more of these species have been described as endemic and rare (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, https://bit.ly/2ANfpxq).
The current situation
As it now stands, Canada has no minimum standards for its marine protected areas, including the Deepsea Oasis. This unique ocean area, which desperately needs the federal government’s protection, is currently only earmarked as an Area of Interest and a fisheries area closure for bottom-contact fisheries: all other activities, including industrial fishing and shipping, are still permitted. While there has been a moratorium on oil and gas exploration since the ’70s, it could be lifted in the near future, which poses another potential threat to the protection of this area. Given all the activities that are currently permitted, how can Canada count this fisheries closure towards our target of reaching 10 percent ocean protection by 2020?
Developing minimum standards for all Canada’s MPAs is one way to ensure that now, and in the future, all marine protected areas provide full and effective protection to the incredible ecosystems and marine life they are designed to protect. And guess what? The National Advisory Panel on Marine Protected Area Standards developed a report in August 2018 proposing minimum MPA standards to be adopted nationwide based on guidelines from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Minimum standards for Canada’s MPAs have been thoughtfully developed, we just need our federal government to adopt and apply them.
With the ongoing stresses that climate change is imposing on the ocean, including worsening hurricanes and storms, rising sea temperatures, and ocean acidification, effectively managed and enforced large marine protected areas are urgently needed. If designed properly, MPAs provide a buffer against climate uncertainty and build resilient ecological communities that will bounce back from damage better and faster.
What you can do
Studies have shown that the most effective protection takes the form of very large, long-standing, and strictly protected areas. The Deepsea Oasis has been identified as an Area of Interest by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which is the first step on the way to being designated as a marine protected area. But it doesn’t stop there. We need to ensure that MPAs across Canada adopt minimum standards of protection so that these areas move from being “somewhat” protected, to fully protected from all extractive and destructive activities, including industrial fishing and oil and gas exploration. Only then will we be able to see the amazing potential benefits of a large, strictly protected area such as the Deepsea Oasis.